Coping with loss

Jay Shaw holds a photograph of his late wife, Kim.

John Clark | Herald

LAMPASAS — Turning the key in the front door and walking into an empty house every day after work has probably been the toughest part of the past five months for Lampasas resident Jay Shaw.

Then, there are the weekends.

“I don’t much like being here,” said Shaw, sitting on his living room couch. “Since I put it up for sale, there’s been a couple of times I’ve been cleaning and straightening up, so someone could come look at the house.

“One of those times was a Saturday, and I stopped for a few minutes, sat down and was going to watch a little TV. Pretty soon, it felt like the walls were just closing in on me — a panic attack, or whatever you want to call it — and I had to leave. I got up and drove to Austin, just to get out.”

Last summer — Aug. 10, to be exact — Shaw’s life changed forever when his wife of 12 years, Kim, lost a devastating battle with breast cancer. She was 52 years old.

“She had a lump in her breast from the time she was in high school,” Shaw said. “Doctors always said, ‘It’s nothing. Just keep an eye on it.’

“Her being a (registered) nurse and knowing things, she would always do the self-checks. She knew what she was looking for, and she never felt anything out of the ordinary.”

The couple first met in Kim’s hometown of Plainview, where Jay, a New Mexico native, was working as a public school teacher and coach, and Kim was the school nurse. Both were recently divorced, and had three children each. They had a chance encounter outside the local Walmart, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“We were standing there talking, and that was where we had our first kiss,” Shaw explained. “I don’t know if you want to say (it was) love at first sight, but that was it.”

When Shaw’s ex-wife remarried and moved to Lampasas, he followed, to be near his kids. He and Kim maintained a long-distance relationship for a while, and then she moved, as well.

“It was a little rough at first. But Remington (Shaw’s middle stepson) looks back and he thanks me. He’s the one who comes back and tells me he appreciates everything I’ve done,” Shaw said, pausing as tears choked his voice for the first of several times while he told the story.

When Kim moved to Central Texas, she worked for a while at Metroplex Hospital in Killeen, then took a job at Lovett Ledger Elementary School in Copperas Cove for a year, before moving to Mae Stevens Elementary. Shaw was working at S.C. Lee Junior High School in Cove when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.

“It was on her birthday (March 29) in 2012,” Shaw recalled. “The thing that finally got her to go (get checked) was when her oldest son had a lump on his shoulder, or somewhere, and had it removed, and he made her promise she would go and get checked out.

“I remember I was in class and she called me, saying it was cancer and they wanted to do a biopsy.”

Shaw immediately left school and met his wife at the hospital.

“Obviously, we were both nervous. I remember thinking that this happens frequently, and they’ve caught it in time and they’ll get rid of it, and we’ll live our lives.

“Looking back — and we talked about this — it had probably been six months to a year before, we were going through some rough times, and what it was, was the hormone changes caused by the cancer that was causing all of it.

“We’d drive to New Mexico or Plainview to visit family, and she’d complain about her hips and lower back hurting so bad. I’d be driving, and I’d have to reach over and just rub … to try and relieve the pain. Thinking back, that was the onset of it. It had already spread to her lymph nodes, and was already in her bones.”

After undergoing a double mastectomy, Kim’s health went up and down. Treatments continued over the next five years, and then on July 27, 2017, doctors told her nothing more could be done. They recommended home hospice care.

“The first week, everybody was thinking that we had six weeks, maybe six months,” Shaw said. “But, I remember … some of her cousins came down that first week. She was happy, and we took pictures. The following weekend, her mom and dad came down, and you could tell …

“They left on Sunday, and I was here by myself. I called her mom Wednesday — Kim was getting to where she couldn’t talk anymore — and I told her I knew Kim would want her mama here.”

Kim’s mom soon arrived, along with her oldest and middle sons. All maintained a constant bedside vigil in the back bedroom, until it was time to say final goodbyes.

“I had come in here, and gone to sleep. I remember walking back in there, about 2 or 3 in the morning, and her breathing was real raspy and deep. I asked when she had started that, and they said she had been doing it for a couple of hours. That’s when we were thinking that it wouldn’t be long.

“It was 6:45 a.m. when she took her final breath.”

The recent holiday season was an especially tough time, and Shaw still misses Kim every day. As he works his way through the grieving process, he tries hard to remember the good times — traveling, snorkeling in the Caribbean; watching the kids play sports and music.

“It was an amazing journey,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything — I wouldn’t trade her.

“But I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”

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