Soteria Press
2616 Angell Avenue
San Diego, CA 92122

Tel/Fax: 858.550.0312

judyschreiber5@gmail.com

When he shall die
Take him and cut him out in little stars
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in Love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

—William Shakespeare

"Judy, this is a death sentence."

These frightful words initiate my journey toward widowhood, down a two-lane highway of denial and despair. Loren Mosher, my first true love and husband of sixteen years, has just been diagnosed with liver cancer and, being a psychiatrist, fully comprehends the dreaded implications of his diagnosis. It's hard to believe that we met almost thirty years ago when we both worked at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and since have had an extraordinarily romantic and supportive relationship.

At the time we met, Loren, a commissioned officer in the Public Health Service, was the first chief of the Center for the Studies of Schizophrenia. He was an outspoken psychiatrist who believed that relationships had more healing powers than medications. When his research project Soteria House, which used little or no medications to successfully treat people with serious mental illness, supported this belief system, he was marginalized by his peers and ostracized from his profession. Yet he never gave up warning about the dangers of medications and supporting client groups who agreed with him.

I was an occupational therapist who worked directly with the patients, helping them optimize their functioning and develop skills for daily living. I had secretly put Loren on a list of men I wanted to meet, although I wasn't sure how I was going to make that happen. Then we were both invited to the same parties two nights in a row—the beginning of Camelot.

Now, we're in our bright, familiar, comfortable kitchen, sharing, as we always do, the experiences of our day. Loren wears a light brown checked sports jacket, a mustard-colored V-neck vest over a tan shirt, and his favorite khaki cotton slacks, which always end up with olive oil stains after he cooks. He stands in front of the black-topped electric stove and stirs the stew meat with the old reliable but battered wooden spoon. I sit on the other side of the counter and chop onions and garlic, the assigned ingredients for the evening's meal. The bright, cheery fluorescent lights make a mockery of our life, which has just been irrevocably altered by Loren's declaration: "Judy, this is a death sentence."

"See, I told you your mother would outlive us all," he then says, referring to my ninety-four-year-old demented mother, whose grip on life seems stronger than any ship tethered to the sturdiest anchor during a hurricane. For that second, I laugh along with him, as the macabre humor assuages some of the pain. He looks up, his blue eyes twinkling, and adds, "You're going to be a merry widow."

My knife stops in midair. I place it on the counter, slowly walk to where Loren is standing, and put my arms around his shoulders—to steady myself or to give comfort, I'm not sure. I recall that Loren had seemed more tired than usual when he returned from his latest trip to Germany, where he talked about the successes of Soteria House. My body comes to a halt, but my mind jerks forward. This is not supposed to happen. We're too young for it. I am barely sixty-two and Loren at seventy is so vibrant. I just completed my last semester of teaching social work students so I could be free to travel more with him, unrestricted by school schedules, and now this! I understand the old truism "Man plans and God laughs."

Finally, as the thoughts run their course, intense heaviness settles into every inch of my body and tears start to fall down my face. I silently ask myself how I can help this man if I'm filled with such fear and despair. The answer creeps into my psyche: Stay in the moment—don't think ahead—and support him on any path he decides to take. This counsel, like advice to the lovelorn, makes sense but is difficult to follow. I become like a petulant child sticking her tongue out while stubbornly refusing to follow directions as I shout, "I don't want to be a merry widow!" Immediately I follow this outburst with the question of a subdued, frightened child. "What are we going to do?"

"We are going to live every day until I can't," Loren replies emphatically. Loren's eagerness to explore and enjoy life always captivated me. He introduced me to the wonders of travel, the merriment of sex, and the beauty of opera. His favorite T-shirt reflected his philosophy of life: "I may be growing older, but I refuse to grow up."