Since her husband’s cancer diagnosis, a grief-stricken mother of five has been sharing their journey as a way to make connections and navigate through their pain. Unfortunately, her husband lost his battle at the age of 42.
In a series of raw social media posts, she shares their final conversations, her heartbreak and healing, and what it means to her to be a “widow” in this world.
In the summer of 2020, Eric and his wife, Bethany Ashabraner, from Indiana, were in the happiest phase of their life, celebrating the upcoming summer and making plans for Eric’s retirement as an elementary school teacher. At that time, they were completely unaware that life was going to throw a curveball at them.
In July 2020, doctors found a 28-centimeter cancerous mass in Eric’s abdomen that had seemingly appeared overnight.
“We were surprised, shocked, and completely taken off guard,” Bethany, 38, an elementary school teacher turned business coach and entrepreneur, told The Epoch Times.
The family was unaware of their path ahead and the daunting challenges that they were going to endure with chemotherapy, face surgery, and more.
“We did the only things we knew to do: we took deep breaths, fell to our knees in prayer and worship, and called upon our close circle of people for support,” Bethany said.
Eric beat the disease by the end of the year, and Bethany marked their victory over the battle with cancer on an Instagram post, captioned, “Don’t take one second for granted.”
However, not long after, the family received the shocking news that cancer had returned. A large mass had grown and the cancer was more aggressive than before. As Eric had to undergo treatments, Bethany had to care for their five children.
In May 2021, everything got much harder and the family dealt with more disappointing news.
“Never in my wildest imaginings did I ever anticipate conversations about hospice, bereavement, + comfort care as a wife at age 38,” Bethany wrote on an Instagram post. “My sweet husband is shocked, bewildered, + in agony at the talk of death. So am I.”
As Bethany was overwhelmed with sadness, anger, and grief, Eric’s fight for his life continued and he longed to see his children.
As the end drew near, the couple began to talk about their deepest feelings and the reality of Eric’s departure at a hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. Bethany shared one of their most poignant conversations on Instagram.
“Do you feel like the end is near, I asked. Yes, he said. Do you feel right with God, I asked. Yes, he said. Are you scared, I asked. Yes, he said, but mostly of leaving you.
“How am I supposed to do this without you, I asked. You can do anything, Bethany. And then, he put his hand on my arm. He looked at me. Bethany, I’m truly sorry. I never wanted to leave you. Not like this. Not ever, he said.
“What is Jesus telling you, I asked. He’s telling me He has something wonderful ahead for you and for the kids, he said. Something beyond. Something incredible. Something extraordinary. So don’t be afraid.”
Eric’s words tempered Bethany’s grief, a grief that extended to their children, three of whom are adopted.
Yet, through it all, Bethany thanked God, even as Eric was dying.
“I will never stop saying it: This is my greatest, deepest honor,” she wrote. “To usher my husband while surrendering my broken heart to His good and perfect will. This is my cup, and I willingly accept it.”
Eric lost his battle with cancer and died on June 10, 2021, in their living room.
Eric, wrote his wife, told his family he wanted them to remember him every time they saw a butterfly. “That way, you can see me no matter where you go,” he reasoned.
Both elementary school teachers at the time, Eric and Bethany met on a dating website in the summer of 2006 and married one year later. They made their home in Fishers.
Since losing Eric, Bethany has reimagined and redefined what it means to be a widow. Their children—Elikia, 12, Johnathan, 11, Elijah, 9, Abigail, 5, and Lillian, 4—are encouraged to remember their father in many ways, and to trust in God.
“If you had asked me 5 years ago, I would have said Eric’s death would pull me under and drown me,” Bethany reflected. “And now he isn’t here, and he has died, and I am raising my children as a single mama.
“But hear me loud and clear: I will not wear the widow label as a symbol of weak, poor, or ruined … I am a widow and I bear the label proudly, because I know that I am part of a set-apart group of women who God has called to experience a type of agony that will, in turn, impact others in a way that otherwise would not have happened.”
Speaking to The Epoch Times, Bethany claimed her social media posts touch on the challenges her family has faced since Eric was diagnosed, and how they have survived the pain of losing him.
“Our stubborn faith and our desire to use this story for massive impact are how we overcame,” she said, adding, “Faith is the journey. It is our compass.”