A journey: Moving from duet to solo
By Patty Krupp
My husband, Lester Alan Krupp, was someone who assessed a need and then moved at lightning speed to fill it. I was beyond fortunate to spend 43 years of my life with him.
From the beginning of our life together, our priority was spending time with our families and friends. We rarely missed a holiday with members of our tribe. Our early years were fairly routine; Lester’s life work as a direct mail executive was what he loved, and I was going to stay home with our baby until I could make use of my MA and pursue my “almost” career as a reading specialist.
Those years were right on track until I felt the beginning of something really bad. Debilitating headaches led to dozens of doctors and specialists, medications, and – 12 years later – the discovery of a rare tumor on my pituitary gland. While I suffered from chronic, intractable pain, my Lester raised our youngest two children, shopped, drove me to medical appointments, and more without one word of complaint, frustration, or anger.
By the time my health saga concluded, Lester had already retired, and we hit the road and didn’t look back. Over the next 16 years, we put 250,000 miles on four different RVs. We criss-crossed the US over and over. We drove through every country in Europe, toured Russia, Israel, New Zealand, and Australia. When we didn’t feel like driving, we cruised. It was as good as this life gets.
This all came to a sudden end when Lester was struck by metastatic kidney cancer. From the shocking diagnosis to the moment he left me, we had just five months to prepare. Opting for no treatment except Mission Hospice’s compassionate care was one of the easier decisions. Lester was 93, and none of us wanted to see him endure treatment. In his view, he’d lived long and well, he wasn’t in a lot of pain, and he even wanted to take one more RV trip. My amazing, unflappable husband! Our family, friends, and Mission Hospice got us through those five months, bless them all.
But when Lester died in November of 2015, I felt the worst pain and sense of helplessness I’d ever known. When I say that for the first six months I had to remind myself sometimes to inhale and exhale, literally, I’m not exaggerating. I felt I was drowning, and breathing became a conscious effort. The person formerly known as me was AWOL – not so much dysfunctional as nonfunctional.
But people are resilient. Abject misery eventually forced me forward, and I began to create a path for myself. Step 1 was to get help, meaning grief counseling. Thank you, Mission Hospice and Isabel Stenzel for the best of the best in that department. Step 2 was to start reentering my former world: social gatherings with people who welcomed the memories and stories of Lester, which helped my healing. Step 3 was traveling without him. When I flew to Warsaw, Poland by myself seven months into that first year to visit my son’s family and see my precious granddaughters, I was SO proud of myself!
I ultimately gained the kind of confidence that led me to Step 4: finding a way to be of service to others who feel as helpless in their grief as I did those first weeks and months. For the last four years I’ve been adding to my responsibilities as a Mission Hospice bereavement volunteer. My forte, I realized early on, is not in working with the patients themselves, but with the ones they leave behind – the people whose lives have been blown to pieces by the loss of their loved one.
On Saturdays, I cofacilitate a spouse loss support group for Mission Hospice. Twice a year I cofacilitate a resilience class. And each month, I call family members of our patients to see how they’re doing – and to remind them of our services. The stories I hear both shatter me and reassemble my heart all at the same time. I can listen to those who want to talk. The commitment people bring to rising after each stumble fills me with pride in the resilience of our species.
Five and a half years into this odyssey, my grief is still always with me. Like shrapnel, it’s wrapped in scar tissue…it hurts like the devil sometimes, but I no longer buckle under the weight. I’m not in the habit of quoting politicians, but on Memorial Day, President Biden made a noteworthy comment at Arlington National Cemetery.
With the perception of one who’s walked the walk, he said, “I promise you, the day will come when the thought of your loved one will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye.”
He speaks truth. The hole that Lester left is proportionate to the force that he was when he was present. I will never stop missing him. But here I am in a living, breathing, demanding, and unpredictable world. I’ve got to answer to it… always with him in my heart.