Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | February 12, 2013

“Nothing good.”

“Nothing good,”

I heard myself say to a loved one on the phone. He had asked what else was new.
I was instantly ashamed that my bad mood had leaked out and gotten on him. Racking my brain at that moment, I could think of nothing positive to report: that’s how crabby I was. There is plenty in my life that is good! I was just feeling sorry for myself, moody and sad and tired of winter. I had called to invite him to a party. He couldn’t come, and that made me grouchy.  I was displeased with myself for using that everyday phrase “nothing good”, chagrined I couldn’t report on the many good things happening or about to happen. The phrase stuck with me and made my bad mood even worse. But why?
“Nothing good,” a friend reported, the next day when I asked her what had been happening in her life. She was cutting my hair, so we had some time to talk. She told me a litany of ratty, unconscionable things her husband has imposed upon her the last few months. She started to cry, dabbed at her mascara, and reigned herself back in. His reprehensible behavior was not going to break her! She is a good woman, strong and hardworking, sweet and kind.  I don’t know her husband but I do know: adults really try not to impose their faults and weaknesses on other people. Even their spouses. As much as possible.
“Nothing good.” The phrase still troubled me, inordinately much for two simple, everyday words.  I’d heard it uttered twice in as many days. So? My brain poked at the phrase, worried it like one’s tongue probes a problem tooth. Typically the phrase is flatly delivered, leaving no room for compromise or encouragement. It’s a phrase meant to stop conversation, or attempts to help or look on the bright side. But that wasn’t all. There was more to it than that. But what? Why was it troubling me so?
I took a deep breath and dove down, inside my head.
Swimming in the dark, murky, subterranean, airless cave of the past, I came around a corner and discovered it. The phrase. Two words. I don’t know what could have made me unable to connect to this pivotal moment. Oh, yes, I do.
Nothing good.
My husband Jeff had been vaguely ill for months, but nothing much was happening. Nobody had seemed particularly concerned, but he wasn’t getting better. Eventually there were tests. Tests, bloodwork, more tests. An ultrasound.
The ultrasound showed internal “lesions”.  I had spent the next day online researching what that could possibly mean. Turns out there are a million reasons a person might have “lesions”. We were happy to be making progress. We’d find out what was causing his crushing fatigue, multiple infections, inability to work. We could start to solve the problem, whatever it was. We’d get him back to his old self again.
We had spent this day at the hospital. A Tuesday afternoon in May. We were not overly worried. I leafed through magazines; Jeff snoozed in the hospital bed; we chatted with the nurses. We had gone to the day surgery unit on advice from a doctor, who said that was the fast way to get a CT-scan, instead of scheduling it at his office, which would take weeks from now. The scan would uncover the root of the problem. Then we could get to work. Get our life back.
After many hours, I left Jeff at the hospital and went to pick up our daughter at a school event. I had not wanted to leave Jeff alone, had suggested asking my mother to collect her. But Jeff had not wanted to alarm our girl with our unplanned absence, so I had left him there alone, took Anna home, and waited for him to call.
I picked him up at the emergency room door, drove homeward. It was late evening by then. He was uncharacteristically silent. I waited quietly, trying to respect the very long day he had had, his exhaustion, but the silence was strangling me. I couldn’t breathe. Eventually I couldn’t stand it. I had to ask.
“So, what did you find out?”
Finally he exhaled,  a long deep sigh. He stared straight ahead. I remember his face in profile, so familiar, so beloved, now a solid black against the traffic lights.
“Nothing good,”  was all he said.
My hands tightened, cramped around the steering wheel in the dark car. I shivered in the warm spring evening, instantly felt a deep chill shudder all the way through me. Icy cold fear settled into my body, stayed, became part of me.  Is there still.
He remained silent for the rest of the short ride home. I don’t remember if I asked him questions he did not answer, or if I was intuitive enough to respect that silence. He only wanted to say those words once. And so he did.
When we got home, Anna was doing her homework. He called her into the family room.
He asked us to sit down.
“They found out what is wrong with me,” he began.
“I have cancer.
In my colon. Liver. Lungs.”
The three of us began to cry together as one organism. I remember holding both hands over my gaping mouth, a visual parody of someone receiving terrible news. My tall, gangly high school junior immediately came over, climbed into her father’s bony lap, pressed her body closely against his, curled up into a tiny ball, stayed there wrapped tightly in her father’s arms as they sobbed together.
Nothing good. That’s what was bothering me.
I have no right to say that phrase ever again.
And I won’t.


  1. Wow – once again, I can relate to what you have written. Very similar story, only our son was 13 years old son when crawled in his dad’s lap to comfort him after his diagnosis of Stage 4 colon cancer. Ever since my husband’s death after fighting cancer 4 years, I desperately try to find “something good” to appreciate each day.


    • Thank you so much, Cathy! I really try to not dwell on the negative, as much as I can. Some days it’s easier than others…
      I’ve found widowed people to be at the same time more compassionate, and less willing to put up with bullsh*it than most people.


  2. We had “nothing good” five times. Our kids never knew a dad who didn’t have cancer, it had a permanent place in our home. The sadness of cancer followed by a slow death; then that empty place, this haunts me still. it comes on unexpectedly and hurts all over again. 4 years, 2 months ago he died, I remarried because the loneliness was getting stronger and unbearable. What I have lived has made me a better person with more love and compassion for others, this I am grateful for.
    Life experiences tend to do that don’t they….
    God give you strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.


    • What I have lived has made me a better person with more love and compassion for others, this I am grateful for.
      Life experiences tend to do that don’t they….
      God give you strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow

      Amen, amen, amen. This is exactly how I feel.


  3. I will always remember the day we found out, too. You write so beautifully about these things that SUCK SO MUCH.

    ***Big hug***


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