Chai Spotlight: Heidi Wilk

My husband Matthew and I worked next door to each other and we often took the subway together, it was our alone time as a couple.

We would catch up, vent about delays, or laugh at the often-ridiculous characters that inhabit the TTC. But one ride I will never forget is the one after we received Matthew’s brain cancer diagnosis. That day’s ride home from the hospital just felt cold. We were both looking around at the other passengers, hoping they didn’t see the devastation behind our eyes. For once, they all looked so normal, and we knew we were not. As life somehow went on we continued to take the TTC but now not just to work but to treatments and doctors’ appointments.

Connecting with Chai Lifeline after Matthew’s cancer came back a few years later, and we had our three young children, Brooke, Zachary, and Joshua to think about, really saved us.

I could never have imagined how much Chai Lifeline would help us and with our kids, they provided a chance for me to spend more time with Matthew in his final months. My kids were then taking the subway with their Big Brothers and Big Sisters to special activities and events. And I would be thrilled to bump into Rafi or Rifky on the subway as they were heading to Sick Kids and me to work. Getting a compliment from them on how well I was doing would be the highlight of my day.

Heidi with Zachary and Brooke

My first rides on the subway without Matthew were the worst.

Rather than in the seat beside me, his voice was now in my head. I would be wondering if he would approve of all the major decisions I now had to make alone for our family. I wanted to do right by him.  Whether it was switching the kid’s school, waiting an extra year to sign Zachary up for sports, or even redecorating our house, I worried about this.

That year, I didn’t go out, I didn’t socialize. I didn’t feel like having fun. It was too hard to be social without Matthew beside me, and I felt guilty, like I wasn’t allowed to have fun without him.

And then one day, a few months ago, I sat on the subway and something changed.

I stopped worrying if Matthew would approve and I just knew he would. I knew he would be thrilled that I sent my 2 older kids to sleepover camp where they had the time of their lives; he would have loved hearing their stories. He’d be so proud of Joshua for thriving at school and summer programs. And I know he’d be proud of me, singing in the car, laughing, and taking time with our kids. I’m not a perfect parent and I could hear Matthew reminding me that I’m just one person and I need to forgive myself. He would be proud of me for this.

Heidi’s Heroes: Joshua, Zachary, and Brooke

Now when the kids and I go out, I feel Matthew’s smile all around us. When a ray of sunshine hits my face as I walk home from the subway, I know he’s pushing me forward.

Maybe it’s time passing, maybe it’s adjusting to our new normal, but I’m happy, the kids are happy, and I no longer resent my friends with healthy husbands. I’ve started going out again. It feels good to socialize. I love having dinner with my children and with my mother. I look forward to coffee dates with my friends, people who love me for who I am, who I can open up to about things like feeling lonely, unattractive or insecure about dating my 40s.

This year has changed a lot for me. There have been ups and downs, but now I know Matthew is cheering me on, and I can handle things better. I trust my instincts. The sadness has melted away, and I can laugh again. I’m excited for the next chapter in my life. And last week, on my way home from work, I walked out of the subway and felt the summer sun shining on my face, and I knew that Matthew was smiling at me.

Heidi Wilk was born and raised in Montreal and received her dietetics degree at McGill University. She moved to Toronto in 2002 with her husband Matthew. Heidi works full time in a downtown Toronto hospital and has 3 beautiful children under the age of 10. Trying to achieve a work life balance was put to the test in 2008 when Matthew was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer and their lives and dreams were forever changed. Heidi has recently started sharing her own personal struggles, how she has overcome them and the important life lessons she has learned as result. Contact Heidi by email at heidiwilk76@gmail.com.

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