Watching a loved one die is hard enough

Not talking about it is excruciating

Webb-BarbaraFTLOGOSECHELT, B.C. Feb. 21, 2013/ Troy Media/ – Howard Jaffray, a sheet metal worker from Wasaga Beach, Ontario who loved his wife ‘” went to work early one April morning and quit his job.  It wasn’t planned. He didn’t have any other choice. The decision came to him in an instant, the day before, while standing in his bathroom.

‘If you ever find out that it’s bad, don’t let me know,’ his wife had always said. He struggled with her request. He didn’t know how he was going to keep his word.

Howard admired his wife for taking on her battle with breast cancer almost singlehandedly in 2001. Sharon Jaffray, a high school teacher, had managed it well. After some chemotherapy and radiation treatments the cancer was gone.

Regular check-ups went on for years and by 2006, Sharon was celebrating five years of being cancer-free.

A month after that five-year check-up Sharon started noticing pain. The breast cancer had metastasized to her ovaries. Once again, she chose chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Come August 2006, test results concluded that the cancer had been eradicated.

‘She called it her little miracle,’ said Howard. She decided to retire early from teaching as a reward for beating cancer twice.

The following February, Howard and Sharon planned a trip to Florida to celebrate her retirement. While they were there Sharon collapsed and was flown back to Toronto. Cancer was located in her brain and spine. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments were scheduled again.

Howard and Sharon Jaffray. Sharon passed away after a battle with breast cancer.
Howard and Sharon Jaffray. Sharon passed away after a battle with breast cancer.

Howard and Sharon agreed on homecare support with physiotherapy, nurses and personal support workers (PSW), assisting Sharon while he was working. A case manager performed an assessment in their home. Howard was showing her the bathroom to determine what equipment they would need.

Howard asked the case manager why they were being given so much support when it was not previously offered with Sharon’s other two bouts of cancer. The case manager answered, ‘It is because your wife is terminal.’

His shock was enough for her to realize that she had spoken out of turn.

Howard had to compose himself and finish the meeting and not reveal anything because the wife that he loved ‘didn’t want to know’. He called his boss and arranged a meeting early the next morning to quit his job.

Sharon had just received her retirement package. Howard qualified for EI compassionate care benefits – a calculated portion of his income that lasted only six weeks. The couple could have swung a hospice (a terminal care facility), but home was where Sharon wanted to be.

Howard had become Sharon’s caregiver, looking after his wife in every way he could, rarely leaving her side. At her request Howard managed all of Sharon’s medications and discreet care, such as using the bathroom or taking baths.

Radiation therapy meant a 1.5-hour drive to Toronto, a $20 parking fee from a structure blocks away, a long wait for Sharon who could not sit comfortably in a chair  ‘” all for a treatment that took five minutes. Howard needed to give her morphine for the pain by the time they had returned home.

Howard waited for about a month before he told their four children struggling with the decision because some of them lived away from home and would need opportunities to visit as much as they could.

Howard was having difficulties with the stress. The nurse noticed that he wasn’t himself and pointed out that we were in no position to care for our loved ones if we weren’t capable of looking after ourselves.

Howard estimates that they went through about a dozen PSW’s before finding respectful ones who did not smoke and who assisted in performing tasks that dignified Sharon. The best ones read books for two hours daily to her allowing Howard to run errands or take a walk to clear his head. Most importantly, no one mentioned that she was dying.

Near the end Howard found a journal that had a couple of entries written in it by a PSW. Sharon had dictated that she thought that she was dying and that she wanted certain things to go to her kids. Howard wished that she had the opportunity to talk to the kids, but all lived with the premise that Sharon didn’t want to know the finality of it. Even the kids wished there was some communication.

A caregiver is someone who is emotionally invested in taking care of a loved one. That emotion plays havoc – they can’t disconnect from it or distance themselves. A relative or a friend is close to that person. It’s a different dynamic than one of a professionally trained provider. It is a type of care that no person should have to live without when they need it the most. For the caregiver, it’s both a life-affirming gesture and a sacrifice made out of love.

‘We never talked about what was happening. There were a lot of things that should have been said,’ Howard remembers ‘” and recalls that it was and is a sacrifice that still haunts him to this day.

Troy Media columnist Barbara Webb has over 15 years of life experience in a caregiver role. Are you a caregiver? Barbara would like to hear your story. Contact her at

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