A blogger friend of mine (not a close one, but still) just lost her husband in a horrible and completely unexpected way. He was in the hospital for several days before they finally turned off life support and let him go. She is left, stunned and bewildered, with two very young children and a life turned upside down and inside out.
I found myself unable to reach out to her, unable to comment, unable to join the ranks of bloggers asking for prayer and support and love for our internet friend. When the news finally broke that he was, indeed, gone, the most I could do was leave a short and rather lame comment saying that I was saddened beyond words and sent my love for her and hers.
I couldn't even pray about it.
I'm not linking her blog here, because I have no intention to use her tragedy as the focus of this post, as it is essentially a self-centered (and selfish?) one. This tragedy SHOULD be about her, and instead I find myself utterly incapable of moving beyond the visceral fear it triggered in me. Because this is my nightmare, the ultimate fear of abandonment, one that I never truly had until I opened myself up to the risk that is True Love.
I've lost people here and there--my great-grandmother, my aunt, The Ex's grandparents, several students--and while I have struggled with their deaths, I don't think I've felt the loss like a hole that could not be filled. I don't think too often about what it would be like to lose someone even closer, like a parent or sibling or even a grandparent (as all four of mine are still living, believe it or not). Mostly, when the thought crosses my mind, I feel numb.
Perhaps it's all avoidance.
Here's the confession, however (and I've only told two people this before): there were times during my relationship and marriage to The Ex, when things were at their varying worst, that I fantasized about his death. Not murder, no--just, you know, some sort of accident or disease or something like that. It seemed like a cleaner way to remove a source of conflict and pain.
God, that seems cold put in writing.
It's not something about which I am proud. At all. I consider it a measure of how broken my mind and heart and soul were for so many years. And I'm glad he didn't die, because I think the guilt would be crippling.
But I did have those thoughts, and I never felt much more than the acknowledgment that the change itself would be a wrench, but that otherwise...well, otherwise it would be a relief.
I have never felt, at any rate, that the death of any one person would be shattering to me, even though I know I would grieve.
That is, until about six months ago. MTL and I were talking about his job and the dangers associated with it, and he mentioned the reality of metal poisoning, and how his life may very well have been shortened by the quantities of various metals that have made their way into his system. At those words, I experienced a visceral reaction I've never had before: the utter terror of what it would be like to lose him to Death's inexorable grasp.
I've been unable to fully escape that fear ever since. It's surfaced again at different times: when he mentioned a scare he had years ago over a potential lupus diagnosis; when we've talked about getting old; when the deaths of others bring home the reality that everyone, inevitably, dies.
I didn't tell him about my friend's husband for several days. Not that it is someone he knows, but still--I often mention major events in the lives of my blogger friends. Not this one. The other night, during one of my all-to-recently-frequent teary episodes, I finally told him about the fear, about how I realized that by letting him inside all those walls and that armor, I've opened up my heart to the potential for extraordinary pain. Not only do his words and actions have more power to hurt me than anyone else's; losing him would be a mortal wound.
I feel melodramatic writing this out. I worry that you, reading this, will worry that I have tied my identity up in him and developed some unhealthy relationship, because that's the sort of thing I worry about. You thinking that, I mean. (I'm not good at confessions, really. Too much showing the cracks under the pretty surface.)
Whatever. I'm not saying I would die the next day or do something stupid or anything like that: I'm saying it's a wound that would never, ever heal as long as I did live. And I'm selfish enough to wish that perhaps I could go just a little before he does, or even better--at the same time. Because I'm not so sure he would do very well either. I understand, finally, how it is that sometimes there are those couples where the one passes away not long after the other goes, as though with that death, life simply did not have enough hold any longer.
(I am definitely imagining a time many, many years from now. I'm not sure how to feel about the trend toward longevity on both sides of my family tree, I have to say. Both a blessing and a curse, perhaps.)
I think that's why I struggle so much with this blogger's story: it drives home the reality that the end may be far closer than we ever imagine. And she has to keep going, has to keep living, has to stay there for her children.
The reality is that I didn't truly understand the risks when I decided to love him fully. It's too late to turn back, even if I wanted to.
Which I don't. I suppose that means that I know every moment spent with him is worth the pain of any moments spent without.
When I told him about my fear, MTL was silent for a while, then told me the story of his grandfather's death. When he was fairly old, he became ill with cancer. At the end, even sitting for a while in a chair became exhausting. One night, he woke, turned over in bed, took his wife of many years in his arms and cuddled her close, and then died.
That will be us, MTL told me. And in the meantime, if we live each day fearing death, we won't really live.
And then he took me in his arms and cuddled me close, and I cried.