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BY NIKKI MOBERLY · DIRECTOR STRATEGY AND PLANNING · UNITED STATES
I never planned to be a widow in my early thirties.
In April 1998, my husband of seven years was diagnosed with a rare malignancy after tests were run to rule out such a cancer. We learned of the prognosis in the oncologist’s office late that spring day. It was clear when the doctor sat down with us that what we thought was going to be a routine diagnosis with a prescribed course of treatment was anything but routine.
The doctor talked to us about the details and characteristics of the cancer, most of which were a blur. What we did remember was how he said quietly and simply, “I’m concerned.” We learned how rare this cancer was, that it was terminal and that there was no cure.
The doctor gave my husband 2 weeks to 2 months to live. The moment he mentioned hospice, my mind reeled at the reality of this diagnosis. The doctor did offer some treatments that could keep the cancer at bay a little and potentially give my husband a couple more months to live.
My Well-Planned Life Simply Came to An End
We went home together to grieve this diagnosis and come to terms with the news. We investigated the potential treatments and talked and talked. We talked about what was important to us. We talked about what made our life together joyful. We talked about how scared we both were. We cried together and in private with sadness and regret over the loss of our future. We got second opinions.
And then he decided.
One day at breakfast not long after the diagnosis, since we didn’t have much time, he told me he chose hospice. He said that he wanted to live his life fully all the way to the end; to be as strong as he could as long as he could. He wanted to be unencumbered by surgeries, illness, and side effects associated with treatments which only promised to prolong his life by mere months.
“His leadership in the face of his diagnosis, and clarity of vision for what was important to him, led the way for me and the rest of our family to find joy in unexpected places — even in the face of such sadness. I took leave from work and we went on walks. We took our boat out on the water and spent time with our dog in the backyard. He played his guitar and we sang together.”
He died in July 1998, three months after his diagnosis.
After he died, I wasn’t scared of hospice anymore. In fact, I became a hospice volunteer and have been active in various ways ever since including bereavement groups and music comfort.
I am so grateful to Cisco for its benefits like Time2Give that enable me to continue to be an active volunteer in so many ways with hospice.
I have learned so much about life from my patients. What they need is what we all need: to feel loved, to have community and fellowship, to have meaning and purpose, to do things that bring us joy and be comforted in the hard times, to feel safe to be exactly who we are. It’s just more urgent at this very important time of their lives.
I have always been an action-oriented person focused on problem-solving, but once I dealt with my husband’s death, I realized that some problems are unfixable. Sometimes it’s good enough to just be there.
I have reflected often on how that doctor showed up and delivered the news; I remember how he made us feel. This informs my leadership style. I actively work to model it when I need to have a difficult conversation. For me, such difficult conversations at work are not that hard when compared to giving or receiving news of a terminal illness.
Hope and Finding Joy
Through this journey, I also met my current husband. We have been married almost 20 years and have four children together. I am enjoying my life since my first husband in a way that I never thought possible. I realized that it’s due to the legacy of my late husband that I feel so deeply and live life with joy and passion. I bring him with me every day in this unfolding mystery called life. His life, and the lives of all my patients, inform who I am as a human being and shape what kind of leader I have become.
Did You Know….
Hospices specialize in grief support and generally offer services to everyone in their community regardless of whether your family member died in hospice or not. Check with your local hospice to see what kinds of groups they offer including suicide and overdose, miscarriage and sudden infant death.
Nikki Moberly is the Director of Strategy and Planning for the Global Systems Engineering organization at Cisco and an Executive Coach with Cisco Coaching Services. She has also been a hospice volunteer for 21 years and has her graduate certificate in Thanatology (the study of death and dying) from Hood College.
- “Being Human” by Atul Gawande
- “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi
- “Transitions : Making Sense of LIfe’s Changes” by William Bridges
- Leadership and Life Lessons from Loss
- When Life’s Lessons Lead to Leadership
- Love, Loss and Leadership
- Navigating Work After Cancer Changes Everything
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