It’s very rare that you come across someone brave enough to share the raw, vulnerable experience of losing their husband to terminal cancer.
Renne Roleau, celebrity esthetician and founder of Renée Rouleau Skin Care, is one of those people.
We heard about Renee’s courageous grief journey through our friend Adelle Archer (Co-Founder of Eterneva) when we interviewed her for our post about re-defining grief with her cremation diamond business. She shared Renee’s Instagram handle with us, and told us to check her out.
So we did, and we were amazed by what we found.
About a year ago, she received the news that her husband of over 20 years, Florian, had 6 months to live. Instead of hiding or keeping their experience private, Renee decided to celebrate, cherish, and share some of the sweet moments in the last 6 months her husband’s life via Instagram.
The journey of Florian’s last 6 months even has its own hashtag: #thisisflorian.
Their beautiful story, and how it unfolded, received tens of thousands of comments, likes, shares and mentions on Instagram. Renee and Florian’s love inspired many, including the funeralOne team.
We wanted to take the chance to share this beautiful story with you today, because there are so many golden nuggets in it.
Here are 10 important lessons about grief and loss that we learned from Renee’s journey via Instagram:
1. “The first of my last days!”
The lesson: When you share your hardest moments, you inspire others during theirs.
When Florian received his diagnosis, he got a journal and started writing out his last days’ experience; the first entry being, “The first of my last days!”. Another entry says, “I am realizing there is a beauty to having an expiration date. You learn to live in the moment and make it meaningful. For the living, all that is left of you is their memories.”
View this post on Instagram
Death and dying are as unique as the individual experiencing it. Having been a witness to how Florian handled the cards he was dealt has been heartbreaking, yet comforting and inspiring. He said from day one, “We all have an expiration date. I just happen to know mine.” From there, he sought to make the best of it as he knew that every move he made would embed a memory for his loved ones that would live on forever. Were all the days cheery and bright? Not quite. The difficult part of Florian’s journey was the demise of the human body and all the physical and emotional pain associated with that. (Having three tumors on a major organ is not easy.) He was a man of science and knew exactly what was happening with his body. He would say, “I’m like an onion. Slowly but surely, the layers are just being peeled away until I’m left with nothing.” But…one experience of the human body completely caught him off guard. Three weeks ago as he was showering, he started screaming. “What’s happening?!? What is this?!?” Then, he went silent for a minute. He had an out of body experience. We had a doctor appointment a few hours later and Florian shared what had happened. He said he felt like he was being picked up by wings and was floating in the air. The doctor said, “Florian, how did it feel? Was it peaceful?” Florian said, “Yes, it really was. It was a complete sense of well being.” The doctor shared that what Florian experienced was fairly common. It’s partially because of the meds he was taking but also his body providing him comfort and preparing him for death and the transition into a new form of life. He said, “depending on your beliefs, it could be a sign from a higher power.” The doctor also shared that some people experience their watches stopping. So…what happened that next morning? Florian’s brand new Steve McQueen watch that he bought in France three weeks ago stopped for two hours. The spirits were calling. As I face my first day without him, I am comforted by the amazements of the human body and I feel at peace knowing that his new life is indeed a beautiful one. #thisisflorian
A post shared by Esthetician & Skincare Expert (@reneerouleau) on
2. “Cherish every moment”
The lesson: If you were given months, weeks or days left on this Earth, why not enjoy them?
Renee and Florian had a very full life of motorcycle rides, trips to France, race car weekends and impulsive adventures. These adventures did not stop when Florian received his terminal diagnosis. He enjoyed every one of his last moments without fear, and full of love.
3. “If we only knew the real value of the day”
The lesson: Don’t forget that everyday is a gift, and so precious.
After Florian’s passing, Renee found this fortune in his wallet. Renee reflected on the fortune, saying: “I don’t know how long ago he saved this, whether it was during his cancer journey or not, but what I do know is that time waits for no one and he always knew this.”
4. “Signs from higher powers”
The lesson: There is a divinity about life that we may not logically understand until the last moments of our lives
Even though Florian was a man of science and logic, he had some pretty touching divine experiences in his last weeks of his life. In one instance, in the shower, he had an out-of-body experience.
When he told his doctor about it, his doctor reassured him this was very normal, and even told him that he may experience his watch stopping,
as many of his patients did before. And what do you know? The next day, his watch stopped working. These signs are hard to deny, that there is a divinity that is undeniable in our mortality.
6. “Fly free into the sea”
The lesson: We don’t know if death is the end, so why not treat it like a new adventure?
Renee explains in this post how in the final days of her husband’s life, she felt that he had one foot in each world — this one, and the one beyond. We truly appreciate the courage she explains when she says: “Florian, a new life awaits you. Fly free into the sea, my love”.
7. “A celebration of life”
The lesson: Just as much as life matters, so does death. Write down your dearest wishes… they’re important.
Before Florian passed, he wrote out, very simply, how he would like his end-of-life celebration to be. The note was short and sweet, but important. The result was an epic life celebration of Florian that sent him…
8. “To the moon and back”
The lesson: Remembering and celebrating a loved one isn’t just for the loved one, it’s a chance for everyone involved to heal.
When you watch this video of life celebration in honor of Florian, it’s easy to see that this celebration isn’t just about him. It’s about everyone involved. Renee speaks to this healing that happens when we celebrate someone’s life in her caption of this post when she says:
“Florian, we honored you exactly the way you wanted us to.
We shared all our best memories of you.
We laughed, we cried, we sang, we remembered.
The reason we look back is to help ourselves forward.
We carry the torch of your legacy as we face a new day.
You will forever be our strongest angel. We are thankful for you today—and always.”
9. “Be free. Just like that bluebird. Be free.”
The lesson: Being a part of the disposition process is an even greater opportunity to heal.
It might sound terrifying to some, but being a part of the disposition process of a loved one is incredibly healing. The classic funeral education textbooks will tell you that, and this is just a real-life application and validation of that information. It seems Renee was able to use this experience as a way to move through her grief more than she originally thought, which is beautiful.
10. “It’s just rain”
The lesson: It’s okay to remember, with great detail and emotion, the “hard” memories. It’s actually courageous and therapeutic.
If you read this sweet caption, you’ll catch the beautiful story behind Renee’s tattoo which reads “It’s just rain”. This whole story reminds us that remembering isn’t scary. It’s a messy, teary journey that is the step forward. It’s also a reminder that the best way to keep someone alive in our hearts, is to remember them.
The greatest lesson of all
Through all of these lessons, reading back through all these posts while editing this piece, I’m realizing that the greatest lesson of grief, of sharing, and of loss — is humanity. That we are human, and we are imperfect. We cry. We pass. We will not last forever in these bodies. And to share the whole process of it all, takes away its fear and dreadfulness. Because life is really all about sharing, and so too, is death.
Have you experienced a courageous act of healing through grief, either online or offline? Tell us about it below!