themighty logo

How 25 Donuts Helped Me Turn My Grief Into Hope


Sure, I could have eaten 25 donuts. That may have given me some sort of temporary satisfaction, until I got violently ill and then had to throw all of my clothes out for a size or two bigger, but no, that is not what I did.

I did not eat 25 donuts. I did, however, use 25 donuts to help me on a rough day.

I did use 25 donuts to turn my sadness into hope, into a purpose, and yes, even into a smile.

Growing up, I always hated the day after Christmas. All the fun and excitement was over, and the huge letdown always caused a hangover-type effect for me. As an adult, I now have a different reason to dislike December 26.

There were many times during my wife Michelle’s cancer battle when I had to rush her to the emergency room for one reason or another. On December 26, 2015, I had to rush her there again, only this time she would never return home.

We would spend five heart-wrenching days at the hospital and then 23 more at hospice before Michelle passed away in a moment of unexpected peace and beauty on January 22, 2016, after her heroic two-and-a-half year battle with a rare and aggressive cancer.

Michelle’s friend Vicki sent a text to me the morning after Christmas asking if she could stop over to see us. I happily said yes, as the two of us were in bed and fairly depressed as Michelle was quickly getting worse, and we always looked forward to company — especially on days like that. Very quickly after Vicki stopped by, Michelle took a turn for the worse. I quickly packed a bag for us as Vicki stayed with Michelle, rubbing her back, and once finished, we both walked Michelle to the car very slowly and then headed to the ER of the hospital where all of Michelle’s main doctors were located.

I decided to message close family to let them know what was going on, as Michelle looked worse than I had ever seen her before and I didn’t know if she would make it through the night. Many family members came to the ER, and after a few bags of fluid Michelle “came to.” When she did, she was typical Michelle. Funny and dorky, shockingly upbeat and trying to reassure all of us, as though we were the sick ones. Her strength, as usual, was awe-inspiring.

For the next two hours or so, family members would take turns rotating in and out of the ER to spend time with Michelle, and she would proceed to harass each and every one of them. You see, Vicki had brought donuts when she came to the house to visit, and she made sure to slip them into the backseat of our car before I pulled out of the driveway and headed to the hospital.

“John, the donuts, did you bring the donuts?” Michelle asked after regaining her senses.

“Yeah, they are in the car,” I responded. I was in shock that she was asking me about donuts after what we had just been through for the last few hours.

Can you guess what happened next?

Yes, you got it. My tiny, yet feisty wife sent me out into that cold and snowy January day to walk what seemed to be about a mile away, where I ended up parking the car, to get the donuts. Once I reentered the building with donuts in hand, it began. Michelle would proceed to harass, and I do mean harass, each and every family member who came into her
room.

“If you want to make me happy, you’ll eat a donut,” she would proclaim, over and over again until people finally started stuffing their faces with the sugary goodness just to appease her. Even some nurses got in on the action.

As I sit here today realizing that this day marks the anniversary of the final day my wife was ever physically in our home, I painfully acknowledge that the next five weeks are going to be tough. Memory after memory, anniversary after anniversary, of what can only be described as a painful, tragic and horrific last month on this Earth.

Undoubtedly, the grief will hit me. I’ll have my good days, and I’ll have my bad days. I’ll have moments of despair — and moments when I think of happier times and smile.

On December 26, 2016, I had a choice. I could have stayed in bed, caving to the bottomless pit that was in my stomach as I awoke.

But no. Instead, I honored my wife.

Can you guess how?

Via the donut.

I woke up, I pushed through the pain and sadness, and I honored her in a unique but rewarding way. Sipping on my morning coffee, I put pen to paper and wrote a thank-you letter to the hospice staff and included one of my favorite pictures of Michelle and my stepdaughter on it. I also wrote a small donation check out to the amazing facility that did so much for my wife, our entire family and (especially) myself.

And then I headed out.

I drove 35 minutes to the donut shop and picked up two dozen, plus one. Then I drove 45 minutes to the hospice center.

It’s funny, I have a deep connection with the hospice. It was the last place I ever spoke to Michelle, kissed her, held her, saw her alive. The place where I read the eulogy to her the morning of the day she passed away. The place I would tell my stepdaughter that Mommy was now in heaven as we cried together and held on tight.

I walked into hospice, donuts, thank-you letter and donation check in hand, and asked the receptionist if I could head to the back.

As I got to the back, I saw my favorite nurse. I was so excited to see her. She seemed super excited to see me, too — although I think a majority of that excitement may have been over the donuts I handed to her. We talked about Michelle. We talked about my stepdaughter. And we talked about me.

I smiled throughout.

For me, there is a comfort to that building, to that staff — to it all.

From the moment I put that pen to paper to write that thank-you letter until the moment I left the building after delivering two dozen donuts, I had hope. A sense of purpose. “Hope and purpose? How did you have hope and purpose? You just delivered some donuts?” You might be thinking this. It wasn’t just about a couple of boxes of donuts.

You see, when Michelle was dying, she would often say to me, “I don’t want everyone to forget me, John.”

I would assure her I wouldn’t let that happen.

Whether it is through my blog, my Facebook page, my upcoming book, or a couple of boxes of donuts, nobody is going to forget Michelle.

Not on my watch.

There is too much awesomeness in her memory to not talk about her, remember her and honor her. She deserves that.

More importantly though, I feel my stepdaughter needs that. I have many goals in my life.

My number one goal is to try and ensure, to the best of my ability, that she turns out to be a happy and healthy person.

My second goal is to ensure she always remembers her mommy. And always knows how much she loved her.

Now, I’m putting the computer down. I told you I bought 25 donuts. I only gave 24 away.

I’m going to go stuff my face with one right now.

A glazed buttermilk.

As Michelle would say, “They are the bomb.”

Yes, she still used the phrase “the bomb.”

Apparently my wife never left the year 1999.

Image via Contributor.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

The Mighty, in partnership with Fuck Cancer, is asking the following: Write a letter to yourself in regards to a cancer diagnosis. What would you say or wish someone had told you? Find out how to email us a story submission here.


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.