BW 103: Living Through Loss: Rebecca’s Journey of Love and Grief

widow interview Jun 25, 2024

(Transcript below)

Living Through Loss: Rebecca’s Journey of Love and Grief

Rebecca, a 46-year-old widow from Western Massachusetts, shares her journey through love, grief, and resilience. Listen in as Rebecca opens up about her life as a clinical social worker and grief counselor, and her relationship with her wife.


Watch the episode here:



00:18 One-on-One Coaching vs. Membership Community

01:18 Benefits of the Brave Widow Community

02:34 Personal Coaching Experience

03:37 Introducing Rebecca

03:51 Rebecca's Background and Early Life

05:22 Meeting and Marrying Her Wife

09:36 Life Together and Initial Challenges

11:32 Discovering the Illness

13:09 Coping with the Diagnosis

19:28 The Final Years

27:43 Advice for Caregivers and Widows

32:44 Conclusion and Final Thoughts

34:14 Join the Brave Widow Community



1-1 Coaching Support:


Brave Widow Community:



[00:00:00] Emily: Hey, hey and welcome to episode number 103 of the Brave Widow show Today, I talk with Rebecca, but before we dive into Rebecca's story, I've been getting a lot of questions about some of the things that are happening at the Brave Widow community, and I want to break down some answers for you.

One-on-One Coaching vs. Membership Community

[00:00:18] Emily: So, one of the questions I've been getting recently is around the difference between one on one coaching and the actual Brave Widow membership community.

The main difference between one on one coaching and the membership community is the speed at which you can implement strategies and tools and move forward. With one on one coaching, you meet on a routine basis with me as your coach. I work with you on a customizable coaching plan to help you take your next steps forward to move through grief and to start building a life that you are comfortable with. happy with, that you're content with, that you actually wake up and enjoy living again.

Now, because widows find us in all kinds of different stages, that plan is going to look different for each and every individual person in the membership community. We also teach widows how to take that next step in moving forward.

Benefits of the Brave Widow Community

[00:01:18] Emily: In the membership community, you have access to a variety of courses. So if you're interested in learning how to make friends, there's a course for that. If you're interested in how to get unstuck and to get past this feeling of stuck, there's a course and a workshop for that. If you're interested in dating, there's also a course for that.

We also have calls throughout the month to help connect with other widows, to learn more about each other, to support each other and to celebrate successes. And we have calls where you'll learn about different educational topics.

The membership community is a great place to start if you're not ready to commit to one on one coaching or you feel like you need to dip your toe into the water before you actually dive in. Both programs are going to help you move forward.

They are going to help you learn how to move through grief, how to take those steps forward to start rebuilding your life, to start building trust and confidence back in yourself and in who you are, and they're going to equip you with the real strategies and skills that you need to enjoy living life again.

One on one coaching is just going to get you there that much faster.

Personal Coaching Experience

[00:02:34] Emily: It's the reason I have invested thousands of dollars in coaching for myself. I've worked with multiple coaches, whether it is to prepare for a public speaking event. Whether it's to learn how to better present my offers and what I can do for my clients, whether it's how to be a better life coach or a grief coach, or to help someone through a particular problem.

I work with a variety of coaches because coaching gets you there faster.

So if you're tired of feeling like you're spinning your wheels, you're tired of feeling like you're stuck. You're not moving forward. You're not getting the traction that you want. You're tired of being bombarded with negative thoughts and negative self talk throughout the day. Then you need to be part of the brave widow community, either through one on one coaching, which by the way, gives you access to everything in the community, or by joining the membership community itself directly.

You can learn more about both of these programs by going to

Welcome to the Brave Widow Show, where we help widows find hope, heal their heart, and dream again for the future. I'm your host, Emily Tanner. After losing my husband of 20 years, I didn't know how I could ever experience true joy and excitement again for the future. I eventually learned how to create a life I love, and I've made it my mission to help other widows do the same.

Join me and the Brave Widow membership community and get started today. Learn more at BraveWidow. com

Introducing Rebecca

[00:04:12] Emily: All right, let me introduce Rebecca.

Rebecca is a 46 year old widow from Western Massachusetts. She is a clinical social worker and grief counselor. Let's dive into Rebecca's story.

Rebecca's Background and Early Life

[00:04:26] Emily: Rebecca, welcome to the show and thank you for being willing to share your story.

[00:04:32] Rebecca: Thank you for having me.

[00:04:34] Emily: Absolutely. So I know our audience would love to know more about you and your background, and then we can really dive into your story wherever you'd like to start.

[00:04:46] Rebecca: Okay. Sounds good. Um, so I, Right now I live in, uh, Western Massachusetts, right outside of Northampton, where there's a bunch of colleges, Smith, UMass Amherst, and, um, I actually was born in Western Massachusetts, and then grew up in Northern Virginia, and then found my way back here after I graduated, uh, graduate school.

I got my degree in clinical social work and I knew I wanted to settle in, in Western Massachusetts. So I, I did that in 2012 and, um, I, I moved here and as soon as I did, I got a job, um, and about a year later, that actually is when I met my to be soon wife, and then here I am, cause I love Western Massachusetts.

[00:05:42] Emily: Awesome. I might have to visit there. It sounds like a nice place and I'm totally digging your background with the tree.

[00:05:48] Rebecca: I know. I realized this is a good advertisement for it. Isn't it? It's beautiful.

[00:05:54] Emily: It is. Yes. Okay.

Meeting and Marrying Her Wife

[00:05:56] Emily: So tell, tell us about like meeting your wife and what it was that you just really liked about her and, um, what, what drew you guys together?

[00:06:08] Rebecca: Sure, sure. Um, so, uh, what I do as a clinical social worker is I do in home therapy for families who are struggling with some type of, um, trauma or major transition, often, uh, Gaining custody of a child or losing custody or struggling with the transition, uh, in between. And my wife did some similar work, which was she coordinated the meetings of all the providers that it takes to make sure that these kids are safe.

So, I was assigned a family and I it's funny cause I, I usually am very, very on time. But I was very late for a meeting one day because there was an unexpected blizzard that had hit Springfield, Massachusetts. So I was really late, and it was freezing, and I was walking up into this, um, apartment, and I walked in, and everyone's at the meeting, and my wife is running this meeting, and I, I walk in, and she turns to me, and she's very unhappy that I'm late to this meeting.

And then I was like, walk into this, the apartment's kitchen, which is like, you know, not big enough to hold three people and it's holding 10. And then I had to take off all my winter clothes that were very, very loud. And as soon as I started doing those, she sets down her pen and just stops the meeting.

It's like dead silence. And she like looks up at me and she's like, you're late. And I said, you know, I'm really sorry. And then she continues on the meeting. And we leave, and then I got a text from her, maybe a week later, um, asking me out to dinner. And that's how it started.

[00:08:01] Emily: Okay, what happened in that week?

Did you just randomly out of the blue?

[00:08:06] Rebecca: Well, I have to say, one, I was not thinking at all that she was gay, so this was a shock. The social work community is very small, so, you know, everyone knows one another. I gathered later that she had asked around about me and et cetera.

Um, and then, uh, we had a meeting like a week later and we saw each other and it was like very friendly and she walked out of the meeting and then while I was sort of like wrapping up, she sent me a text while she was in the parking lot. And said, do you want to go to dinner on, it was February 15th, which was the day after Valentine's Day that year.

And we went out to dinner and three months later we moved in together. Two months after that we were engaged. And then a year later we were married.

[00:08:54] Emily: And what, were some of the qualities that you really liked about her other than You know, sounds like she's a very take charge type of person.

[00:09:05] Rebecca: She was. And so was I. And I think neither one of us were, or had ever been with anyone similar. We always had sort of like the opposite, but for whatever reason that worked.

And I think like both sets of our friends. Made that observation frequently is like, we always just like, we gave each other like that challenge. Um, they both, you know, both of our groups of friends just couldn't believe that we were together in that way either, that, you know, that we would ever sort of, um, be challenged like that by someone else.

She was such a good person, just such an incredibly decent human being.

And that was just true from the start. Yeah. So evident.

[00:09:50] Emily: So everything was fast and furious. You are together. You are committed to each other. And how long ago was that? What year was that? That you were married?

[00:10:00] Rebecca: So we met at the end of 2013 and we're engaged in 2014 and then married in 2015.


[00:10:11] Emily: All right.

Life Together and Initial Challenges

[00:10:11] Emily: And what was life like together?

[00:10:16] Rebecca: Amazing, just absolutely amazing, I think

we were so aware of how lucky we were to find each other.

I mean, I was, I want to say like mid thirties, right? Um, that's probably ten years ago and she was early forties. And we had both been in long term relationships and she actually had a son with someone and who was like the most important human being to her ever.

We'd live with people. We had built lives and houses and we'd done all of this. It's not like this was like, Oh, this is a, you know, we'd never done this. And it was just like, you know, fantastical. It wasn't like that. We never fought. We never said like one, disrespectful word to one another.

We so appreciated. Each other

and that was even, you know, before we found out she was sick, we just, we, we just knew from the start how lucky we were, how lucky we were. And we said it all the time. We said it to each other all the time. It was just like an amazing connection.

[00:11:29] Emily: Oh, it sounds like such a beautiful relationship and time that you had with each other.

And that's amazing.

[00:11:36] Rebecca: It was.

[00:11:39] Emily: So how long were you able to enjoy this relationship, before you ended up learning that she was sick?

[00:11:46] Rebecca: Well, unfortunately, four months after we were married, um, my, my brother died. Uh, and that certainly like affected our relationship, but also. Again, I think made us so grateful for, for one another.


Discovering the Illness

[00:12:06] Rebecca: We were married in August of 2015 and we found out she was sick in, March of 2019, so I guess four years. But I would say I only mentioned my brother dying because. Those four years were certainly impacted by that grief, and she had also lost two siblings herself, one right when we met, and one when she was 25 of the same thing that she ended up dying of.

So. A lot of our relationship was like love and grief all mixed together.

[00:12:47] Emily: Okay. And I can't even imagine trying to work through some of those losses. And I'm sure that brought up for her some of her grief as well with. Her past experience, and then on top of that, learning that she has a similar illness as what her sibling died from how do you even process all of that?

[00:13:11] Rebecca: It has not been easy.

[00:13:14] Emily: Yeah, that would be, uh, can't even imagine how, difficult and hard that must be and how blessed she was to have you there by her side and to walk those steps with her.

[00:13:28] Rebecca: Oh, and I, I can't, I would have never survived my brother's death without her. She was so, uh, she was in every way, just so incredible during that time.

I don't know what I would have done without her.

Coping with the Diagnosis

[00:13:43] Emily: And what, what was that like as she was, how long was she sick for?

[00:13:50] Rebecca: I mean, symptom wise, she like, you know, hindsight is 2020. So she was true truthfully. She was sick all of 2018, but what we thought was vertigo and what her doctors thought was vertigo. Which seems to happen so often with, uh, metastatic breast cancer that has spread to the brain.

Um, so they, you know, she was very symptomatic for the beginning of 2018. Um, so much so that she, she was the most even keeled person you'd ever meet. And she got into this really bizarre, like road rage accident in our car. And it was so unlike her. And I just kept asking all these questions, how it happened.

It didn't make any sense. And. Only like a year later when I saw the police report that I understand like what was happening, but because the disease had spread to her brain, it was on her frontal lobe. Um, anger was one of the symptoms and she just did these really odd. Thanks. And then she went to Brazil that summer to see her family.

And she called me one night and she was in agonizing pain because her like lower back and she was just desperate for any pill that anyone could give her. And this was someone who wouldn't take an aspirin her entire life because she just would not take pills or anything. Um, and she was like, just doubled over in pain.

And that turned out to be where one of the tumors were. Um, and then, uh, from the time she got back until March of 2019, she was dizzy and nauseous and. Just very, very unlike herself until, um, one morning we woke up and I just thought like, this is not vertigo. Like I just kept reading about it and I understand that there's sort of like chronic vertigo, but it was still so severe that I said, you know, I think we have to go to the ER and we walked into the ER and the, the ER doctor who was there that day just happened to be like right there in the little triage room.

And my wife started reporting the symptoms and you could like see the doctor, like put it all together. I'm sure she already knew. And she said, come with me and walked my wife, like from the lobby to the CT scan. And it was like less than 15 minutes. And she walked back in and said, your wife has a massive tumor on her frontal lobe.

I said, okay, I guess I was in shock and not like, I, I knew something was very wrong, but that was, you know, that was big. Um, and I said, uh, okay, so like what next? And she said she needs to go down to Bay state and get a full body MRI. And I said, okay, I'll drive her. And this doctor like looked at me like I was insane.

[00:16:57] Rebecca: And she said, I don't even understand how your wife is walking and talking right now. I'm arranging an ambulance right now because there's a good chance she's going to stop breathing and. I need to be in the ambulance if that happens. Like you're not taking your wife in a car. And then I guess I started to understand how serious it was.

And, um, so she went down in the ambulance and I met her down there and she did the full body MRI. And, what has happened so many times is like, I knew the results were in and everyone's avoiding us and I can tell like the more they're avoiding us. The worst it is, and I had just gone through everything I had with my brother.

So like I, it was literally on the same floor. My brother died , I knew, and finally I just had a little fit and I was like, I, I need the results and they sent, sorry, there's a mosquito, they sent a PIN. And she said, unfortunately, like my wife's brain was covered in tumors. And,

at that point they gave her about three to six weeks to live.

[00:18:08] Emily: How do you even, when you're in that situation, like wrap your mind around what's happening and what they're telling you from a prognosis aspect and what that means for the next few weeks together.

[00:18:23] Rebecca: I don't know that there are words to describe that.

I do remember thinking when the doctor in the ER and our local ER who had found the original tumor, because the CT scan only picks up, you know, bigger things. So they only saw like one of the tumors. It was the MRI that saw the rest of the brain. I remember her saying this and I remember thinking in my head, but like my brother just died.

This can't be happening. There's no way that I could lose my brother and my wife like this. I really felt like there has to be some mistake.

And I think that has been

the biggest lesson in grief is like one thing does not spare you from another. And

some people will never experience this.

And some people will have things 10 times worse than you and I have. And there is just, there's no, um, explanation or sense to it at all, at all,

and to not waste my time on trying to figure out like why that is,

because it's not fair at all.

[00:19:35] Emily: Yeah. And it can cause you to feel like you just, just need a break. You just need one more tragedy not to happen or just have some sense of normalcy when you're faced with so much loss and so much trauma. It just feels like over and over.

So what happened going forward from that point or how, how many weeks did you end up having together?


The Final Years

[00:20:03] Rebecca: So, she actually did not, never left the hospital at that point. They wanted her to start brain radiation immediately. That was, I mean, even if she lived three weeks, that was really the only way she would, um, You know, continue on. She really was at risk of dying at any moment where the tumors were.

And, um, so she did 10 days of full brain radiation. And, the idea was that we would meet with her oncologist, like a couple of weeks later to start the every three week treatment. That metastatic breast cancer requires, um, and, um, figure out, figure out like how we're gonna, you know, move forward. And so she did the 10 days of the the whole brain radiation.

And it made her so incredibly ill so quickly that she lost the ability to walk within about five or six days after the brain radiation stopped. And then we missed that first oncology appointment. I called and left a message. And in retrospect, now knowing, having gone through what we went through, knowing I left a message for her oncologist saying we weren't coming.

And never hearing back is so shocking to me, nevertheless. Um, so we missed that appointment and she's getting sicker and sicker at home. And until she, uh, one morning woke up and like, we were, We had, I, her friends were in town. So like we were getting her to the bathroom sort of like just barely. And, uh, until one morning she just refused to go and try to convince us that she no longer needed to go to the bathroom.

And after about 18 hours of not doing that, I realized like she's going to be very sick and her bladder is going to burst. I had to call nine one one. And, uh, they came, they brought her back to the ER where she was originally diagnosed. And her oncologist was actually there and,

her oncologist walked in and looked at me and said, I don't know what it is you want me to do. Like basically, you know, your wife is dying and walked out of the room and it was,

It was so absolutely terrifying and lonely. Um, but in my gut, even though I could see that my wife was very sick and I can imagine from an oncologist view, she was dying, I couldn't believe it. So I actually called my brother's doctor who works at a hospital in New York. And I called him at two o'clock in the morning and begged him to admit her.

And he said, send me her records. And I did. And six hours later, an ambulance came to, uh, drive her down there. She was assigned a new team and she lived another two and a half years. Wow. Yep. It was amazing. It was amazing. She, we, we were so incredibly lucky to get connected to this team. Her, her new oncologist was actually from the same town she's from in Brazil. So they had, you know, a very positive connection that was really important for my wife. Um, Her neurosurgeon was willing to do a surgery that the neurosurgeon up in Massachusetts was not willing to do it because typically if you have that level of disease, it's worth it to go in for one tumor when there's, you know, hundreds.

But the doctor in New York was willing to take out the biggest one, which is the one that was causing all the problems. So he took that out and she returned to herself and regained the ability to walk. And we had a good two and a half years. Until the last couple of course, so it turned out a lot better than we expected a lot better.

[00:24:31] Emily: What was that next two and a half years like, it had to be full of all kinds of emotional ups and downs of just, maybe going through the motions. Like, I can't even imagine what that has to be like being by somebody's side as they're going through that for that period of time.

[00:24:49] Rebecca: Yeah.

It was hard. I mean, I will say, I mean, she, she was so sick and I mean, she had seizures. She had a thousand other complications going on at the same time because of the medication, because of the disease, because of the steroids, everything. Um, so I say like things were great, but it was, it's, that's so relative because it, I have, things were great because she was like alive and.

And mostly herself, but like, of course, life looked very, very different. Um, she was never allowed to walk anywhere alone, not even to the bathroom. She could have a seizure. She could fall. Um, that is. For someone who was as fiercely independent as my wife was, I, she was so patient. She was so patient because I, I don't know that I would have been able to tolerate that.

Um, but I had to, I had to, um, because of course, the one time I didn't, she fell and

You know, every, you know, I, I memorized how many steps it was to every store to see if she couldn't make it, our life revolved around. This illness, of course, but we were also so happy that she was here. Um, and she was just so happy to like, be in our home. She loved cooking. She, um, I know it sounds crazy, but she loved cleaning and taking care of the house.

She was so happy that she was still here, able to do that, that we spend most of that time, both because how sick she was and that traveling was incredibly difficult and we, we did sometimes when she was well, I, I, You know, it's not like we were completely housebound, but most of the time we spent in our home that she wasn't in treatment.

Um, but we, we had such a good time doing that. We had such a good time doing that.

I think, you know, the part that she helped me with, with my brother was trying to find some sort of, um, purpose in the grief.

And also understanding, like I can like kick and scream all I want that she's dying. That's not going to change the fact that she's dying. I have a choice. I can either like spend that time with her or wasting it, with like with feelings that it just doesn't matter. And she was so good at like helping me.

See that, that like I had this time to, to spend with her

and it really was someone like me to be able to like live in the moment. Like if you, if you knew me before you, it's like, I just, I actually don't know how I did, but, uh, but she was so good at helping me do that.

[00:28:03] Emily: What a beautiful gift, having those additional years together and yeah, yeah, it was a gift what would you tell someone who's maybe in that situation now?

Advice for Caregivers and Widows

[00:28:18] Emily: Maybe they, their spouse or their partner just received a terminal diagnosis. Maybe they're the caregiver, just trying to even make sense of what's happening and what the future looks like, or maybe they have some Potentially extended time together. Like what would you say to that person?

[00:28:41] Rebecca: Well, when we, that day we did find out that she was sick. And

then I sort of realized that we were going to have to live in this place where it's like moment to moment and you either enjoy it or you don't. And the other part of her request was, uh, for the most part, of course, a few people here and there were an exception for the most part, people did not understand that she was dying.

They thought somehow that she was going to survive this. Um, so both of those requests were very difficult for me.

But I don't have one regret about honoring that.

I mean, perhaps there's questions that I won't have have answered and I can imagine that her friends and family. Struggle with that even more because they, they knew nothing and I at least lived with her every day. It's not what I would have planned for an end of life, but I'm so glad I did that, that I was, that I was true to her request, even though it was really painful for me to do.

[00:30:01] Emily: And I know that it has to be really heavy where, You are the caregiver. You're the person that's by her side. You're the one like picking up the pieces of everything and at times a lot of the focus is on the person with the terminal diagnosis and the person who's sick and struggling and you can feel very unseen or just burnt out or just Almost hollow for, from a certain perspective is there anything that you did that was helpful in keeping you going or something you wish you did differently, that would have kept you. Feeling just in a, in a better place while you were undergoing that. I

[00:30:51] Rebecca: mean, relationships change after grief, particularly when it's like this. Um, and I, I was sort of already prepared for that because I had to experience it with my brother. And I saw how different family and friends, um, responded. So I was.

It was much more prepared for that. Um, and I think for me, what I've realized, and maybe this isn't true for everyone, the people that I feel the most connected and safe with right now are people who have experienced a similar loss.

And that's not to say that I haven't had some close friends be really amazing, but. It's just, it's very, very different. It's very different.

You know, I think like when you watch someone suffer, it changes you forever. And until you know what that means, it's just, it's hard to relate to.

And with people sort of like in the same boat, you don't even have to have that conversation.

[00:31:58] Emily: Yeah. You don't have to explain it.

[00:32:03] Rebecca: You know, when, when people die from a disease in the brain, you know, that typically comes with, you know, X, Y, and Z that are horrible. So it is really helpful to be able to talk to other people who understand what that looked like.

So guess my, my advice is that

it is a, it is a particular connection when you meet people in the same grief boat.

[00:32:37] Emily: It is, I think, I think it's so important to have a really supportive community around you who understand in their own way what you've gone through and you can just talk about it and not have to explain what that means and explain how it's changed you. And I think sometimes it's good to have people around you that don't know how you were before, because then they're not trying to compare you to how you were.

[00:33:04] Rebecca: I never thought about that until you said that. I wonder if that's some of it. They, they don't have anything to compare it with. It's so true.

[00:33:12] Emily: They're not waiting for you to go back to normal. That's definitely helpful.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

[00:33:19] Emily: Well, Rebecca, thank you so much for coming and sharing your story. Is there any last words of wisdom or any last words of encouragement that you would give to other widows who have a similar experience?

[00:33:33] Rebecca: I would, I hate to say, cause it's so cliche to say, cause this is what they say to you in the beginning is like, somehow it does get better. And I would say that is true. It's just, it, it takes, it takes time. It takes time. And not to have, um, I think, you know, often people have these expectations of what a year looks like, what two years looks like.

And I can tell you that this third year has been the most difficult for, Different reasons, but, um, that it's it's it's hard to predict what part is going to be easy. What part is going to be hard. It's not linear, um, but it's sort of, you know, it, it, it slowly does get better.

[00:34:26] Emily: Yes. And I think even though it feels cliche, it's meant out of a way to give people hope.

To not give up that there is that light at the end of the tunnel. So, thank you for just being so open and willing to share as much as you did about your story. And I know that it will resonate and help encourage other widows that are out there.

[00:34:48] Rebecca: Thank you.

Join the Brave Widow Community

[00:34:49] Emily: Are you a widow who feels disconnected? Do you feel like you're stuck or even going backwards in your grief? Widowhood can be lonely and isolating, but it doesn't have to be. Join us in the Brave Widow membership community and connect. We teach widows how to find hope, heal their heart, and dream again for the future.

Find your purpose and create a life you love today. Go to bravewidow. com to get started.



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