Dirty Dancing star Patrick Swayze died in September 2009 aged 57 after a 21-month battle against pancreatic cancer.
At his side was his wife of 34 years, Lisa, who had nursed him through his final months with incredible strength, courage and devotion. Lisa has published her autobiography, Worth Fighting For, which gives an intimate account of her life, marriage to Patrick and his devastating illness and death.
But here, in an exclusive extract from the book, dancer Lisa, 55, reveals how she is still struggling to cope without her soulmate, who was known to his family as Buddy...
The doctors came in to Patrick’s hospital room. “I’m afraid we’re at that point now,” they said with compassion.
I felt hot, hot tears well up into my eyes. I had to agree.....I had to agree that this was the end.
We are taught that as long as there is life, there is hope and dying is about breaking the rules. Death is the ultimate failure. and letting him go I felt like I had failed.
The only way I could possibly bear it was to keep reminding myself this was the act of love I had promised. This wasn’t about me. Within a few, very short moments, the purple ‘do not resuscitate’ band was on his wrist.
We were now not getting better. We were dying.
I asked Patrick if he wanted to go home. But he didn’t understand. I leaned over, put my arms around him, and smiled. “I love you,” I said. It was the one thing he always understood.
“I love you,” he looked into my eyes and half-mouthed, half-whispered back. It was September 2009. 21 months earlier I’d driven Patrick to the doctor because he had an upset stomach.
Patrick had tests. The scans showed a 2in by 1½ mass on his pancreas and an alarm sounded inside our heads. What? What does this mean? The doctor was hesitant but we pushed.
“We-e-l-l-l, it could be cancer,” he said.
Patrick needed an endoscopy and a biopsy on the mass. Afterwards the doctors took me into a nearby private office. “He has pancreatic cancer.”
I remember the information kind of freezing in my brain.... because it had no reality attached to it.
Patrick was recovering poorly from the procedure and was still woozy from the anaesthesia. I was trying to get my footing and figure out what the next step was. How do I tell him this news? How can he assimilate information like this when he was incredibly medicated and in pain?
I decided to wait until morning. What a dreadful night. Living with this horrible knowledge I felt as though I was the one who had crawled into a coffin and closed the lid.
I woke up on the lumpy hospital cot the next morning and a young surgeon was sitting on Patrick’s bed talking to him. Patrick was awake but looking confused.
The doctor looked at me. “He doesn’t know?” My stomach turned. “I didn’t tell him yet.”
“They found you have pancreatic cancer,” he told Patrick.
Patrick looked quickly at me, alarm rising in his eyes. I could see he was taking in this information but he was as stunned as I was. As he told me later, inside he was thinking....“I’m a dead man.”
It’s very hard to talk about the last days in Patrick’s life - because it’s so hard to describe what is....a state of grace. A time that was so horrible and so loving at the same time. A time that changed my life, forever.
After I brought him home things went very fast. He slipped into a coma. We still talked to him, sat with him. I cherished our time alone, holding his hand, listening to music, sleeping with my arm around him, my head on his shoulder.
In the quiet of Monday morning, September 14, I looked at his face and listened to the tiny sips of air he was taking in. I knew it was time.
I lay back at Buddy’s side, I held his hand. And then he didn’t breathe any more. It was ten o’clock in the morning. He’d used every last bit of that body and he needed to leave it behind.
In an hour or two, family came in to visit. Lucio, our groom, brought Roh, Patrick’s favourite brilliant, white horse, down to the house.
I had straightened up the covers around Patrick’s body and placed the most perfect white rose on his chest.
Lucio brought Roh right up to the bedroom doors, so close the horse was almost inside, standing, towering, vibrant. Lucio gave Roh the cue, and this powerful horse bowed to Patrick.
Later the family stood in the living room as his body was lifted and wheeled out to a waiting vehicle. I followed as they loaded Patrick’s body in. The door slammed shut, the car started and rolled up the drive. And that’s when it hit me. He would be gone.
I turned to bury my face in my mother’s shoulder and started to sob.
I wish I had something good, or enlightening, or even remotely encouraging to say about the process of losing someone. But I don’t. It’s like the world is twisted like a wet rag until all the colour, all the poetry in life is squeezed out of it.
On day 2, I had spilled out of bed because I heard his voice. “Lisa!” it came from inside the bathroom, and had an urgency to it....a tone I’d heard before when he needed my help.
I raced into the bathroom to see what he needed. As I was scrambling, i was aware that he was dead. But maybe...maybe....
I rounded the corner. .He was not there. For me, grief is something that happens on a cellular level. It’s not an emotion. Grief is like little worker bees streaming through your blood, buzzing and working overtime at paralysing bits of your life.
I can see why spouses sometime follow their mates into death. It’s not a choice. your body either survives the onslaught, or it doesn’t.
I found myself blaming myself. Blaming myself for taking him to the hospital, taking him out of the hospital, being the one to “give up,” for not making him well.
And if that wasn’t enough, I started to blame myself for everything I ever did wrong in our relationship. every time i was unreasonable, angry, grumpy....and after that - I blamed him.
For what, you might ask? Hey, we were married for thirty-four years, trust me, I have a list. I’d yell at him. I’d be very angry. Everyone around me tells me how well I’ve been handling this and what a strong woman I am. I smile but inside I think they’re freakin’ nuts!
I do not feel strong and courageous. I feel like a puny, snivelling, whiney mess.
As I write this it’s been one year, eight months, and one day since I lost my Buddy. I have a birthday coming up at the end of this month, and it’s funny how all the anniversaries have changed for me.
I have added the date that my Buddy died. The date of his death changed everything, because everything is now without him.
No one told me how hard it was going to be living without my husband. It’s like learning to walk again - but with only one leg now. I see now how I always felt protected by Patrick. We had our hard times, and challenges that were towering, but I felt....safe.
“I know why,” a friend offered. “You felt safe because he loved you.”
And his love was like an umbrella. It covered me, kept me from the storm, and safe in his arms. and now, I’m out in the cold, looking for a life raft anywhere, and finding none.
I have to look at the world through different eyes now. Patrick and I saw the world together for over thirty-four years. And this world looks different without him.
Part of me thinks, “I should be over this by now.” It’s almost like an embarrassment. In addition to feeling like a broken girl, I feel like a broken record.
It’s only just recently that i started talking to a grief counsellor. I got sick of hearing myself say the same stuff in my head and to the friends I share with.
Depression seems to have become a permanent fixture in my life. Like it’s stuck inside me and won’t unclog.
I’ll have some wonderful days, and then I’ll crash and it feels like nothing has changed at all. I still miss him as terribly as I ever did.
Change is hard. and this kind of loss forces you to change. But I’m keeping the faith. It’s got to get easier than this! And I’m working hard, very hard, in every way I can.
In the meantime, I’m strong enough this year to think about celebrating my birthday. I’ll just have some of my friends over, and we’ll laugh.