Life After Emilee Logo | Neal Klein honoring his wife after losing her to pancreatic cancer
Life After Emilee Logo | Neal Klein honoring his wife after losing her to pancreatic cancer
Life After Emilee Logo | Neal Klein honoring his wife after losing her to pancreatic cancer
Emilee Mitchell Klein

When Emilee died, I not only lost my wife of sixteen years. I lost my soul mate. We both had childhood traumas, hers much more severe than mine. So, I lost my trauma mate. I lost my artist friend. Out of all her talents, her drawing captured me the most because my Mom was an artist, and she reminded me of my Mom when she painted or sketched. She and my Mom were close, theirs was almost an instant friendship. And, I lost my only friend.

We met in 1999, online, before it was a fashionable thing to do. She was in Connecticut, I was in New York. We were about 65 miles apart. After having talked online and then on the phone for about six weeks, I drove to Connecticut and we met at a Friendly’s ice cream shop. We took a walk down by the water in her seaside town. I reached for her hand to hold hands, and I think something happened to our hearts in that moment that fated us to be intertwined.

I will fast forward and say we got married in December of 2000 (Emilee’s third and my second marriage), almost exactly two weeks before my Mom died of uterine cancer. We knew she was dying, and we both wanted my Mom to be a part of our wedding, so we planned our wedding in nineteen days. Only angels in heaven can facilitate such a monumental feat, but it helped that the venue was my brother’s picturesque, charming home.

In May 2015, Emilee was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, with metastases to both lungs and right adrenal gland. Shock, horror, disbelief, and tears I did not know I had.

Before this she was an energetic, at-home wife who was artistic. She created and sewed young children’s clothes (she hoarded fabrics).

She liked to refinish furniture in the shabby-chic genre (and collected more pieces than would fit in the house). She ran an online tag sale site for home furnishings and furniture (hence she got first dibs on the furniture she liked and that explains all the furniture in the house, and all the lamps, and….you get the idea).

She sketched and painted, loved to color (especially the books with slightly nasty sayings, like “bite me” with a picture of an apple, and of course much more off color ones), and loved decorating and redecorating (and redecorating) the house.

She staunchly believed in women’s rights, and felt that – in instances of sexual abuse and rape – the victim was never, ever at fault. She also loathed the fact that men could not help themselves (without some subtlety) when it came to looking at women’s bodies, especially their butts. It was a pet peeve of hers and she would frequently comment as a man would turn his head almost 360 degrees to look at someone on the street, in the parking lot, and the supermarket.

The pancreatic cancer diagnosis was the beginning of a twenty-one month trip that was anything but pleasant. Constantly in the backdrop of activity, hovered a cloud of doom. Time was limited. All joys bittersweet. The clock was ticking down and we did not know when the ticking would slow and stop.

One of the many tough things was that – as her energy was draining from her little by little – her freedom to be able to do what she wanted became more and more restricted. She did not have the energy to sew and the increasing neuropathy from her chemotherapy treatments impacted on her ability to draw and color. This broke my heart and added to her depression.

She needed a wheelchair for out of the house excursions and had less and less desire to go anywhere. Her need to frequently use the bathroom also played a part in being more comfortable at home and near home. I would joke that I was going to publish a Zagat’s book for bathrooms, rating them for ease of accessibility, cleanliness, and proximity to the front of the store.

Living with the unknown day-to-day was frightening and tiring. When the end came in a hurry, there was so much that was not done and far too much that was not said.

She died on January 31, 2017, exactly three years to the day that her father had died. After caring for her and being by her side throughout the ordeal, it was time for her to spread her wings and fly. And to send me signs from the other side. She always said she was a brat (aka wise ass).

A friend’s words, that make a beautiful poem:

We are but spiritual beings
Having a human experience
We learn
We grow
We love
Our bodies are dying and broken
But then
We are free again
Carrying lessons and love

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