As her husband
‘s throat cancer progressed, robbing him of many of his abilities,
says it became harder and harder to focus on the happy times.
“I think that he could not take another birthday,” Dion, 48, says of Angélil, who died just two days shy of turning 74. At the time, he was surviving with the help of feeding tubes and was mostly bedridden.
“For him it was like, ‘How many cakes are people going to eat in front of me?'” she tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story. Towards the end, “We did not buy cakes anymore, we did not decorate too much because he could not get out of bed.”
That didn’t mean Dion stopped trying to celebrate her beloved. “At one point I hired a plane to write a message in the sky for him,” she says. “He barely could lift his head to look at it.”
“When you see your loved one leaving, like in bits and pieces at a time, it’s very difficult,” she says. “Going through three years of helping my husband, especially seeing him suffering in a way, I feel at peace.”
Alex Berliner / BEImages
The Story Behind the Story: Céline Dion’s Life After Loss
For much more on Céline Dion’s heartbreaking loss, how she told her children, and how they are all finding the strength to go on, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Following his passing, Dion transformed the room that held his deathbed. “I told the people I work with at the house, ‘I want you to take the pain away from the room,’ ” she says of donating her husband’s medical equipment and redecorating.
After redecorating and applying fresh paint, “We put up pictures of him and paintings that the kids had done for Father’s Day. We needed the space for happiness,” she says of herself and
her three sons
. Now every night, “we have a ritual. We kiss his picture and wish things. The picture is so sticky now, but I don’t want to clean it.”