As Daylight Savings Time sets in…I’m sitting here mentally adjusting to losing an hour of my life, while also being more determined than ever not to waste another second of it with regrets.
Night before last, I spent two hours having what turned out to be one of the most important and healing conversations I’ve had in an environment that wasn’t created by a therapist, despite the last hour consisting of a steady stream of tears veering into openly sobbing at one point, as if it was.
The talk was with my cousin who, over the years, has given his ear, fatherly advice and emergency exit strategy assistance at times I needed it most. Recently, he lost his wife of fifty-plus years; whose long battle with dementia ended just days before Christmas. Having spoken to him only days before her departure, I knew it was unexpected. But based on my father’s battle with Alzheimer’s, I unfortunately knew that even when you think you may have more time with a loved one whose mind has turned against them…you don’t.
And although we’ve spoken since her passing, it wasn’t until this recent call that he allowed himself to fully express what it’s been like not having her physically present to see, hold and talk to…even though she no longer had the ability to articulate a response in the final years of her life.
And this, Dear Reader, is what broke me.
While his journey with his wife has been very different from my own during my father’s illness, which he was familiar with as his first cousin, hearing him admit to not being ready to lose her and selfishly wishing she were still alive so he could still have time with her, resonated in ways where I momentarily lost my ability to be a comforting ear because I became overwhelmed with grief. There’s nothing more soul-crushing than watching someone you love deteriorate. And you’ll never, ever, get over the first time they look at and/or respond to you as if you’re a stranger. Ever. But you always hold out hope for the day they come back to you. The day they snap out of the seemingly endless nightmare they just can’t wake up from.
And when they don’t…you just hold on to the hope that if they remember nothing else…they remember that they’re loved.
In my last post, I mentioned how a phone call made me realize how I’ve deprived myself of the joy of being in a relationship free of shame. I’ve since dug a lot deeper and made some very necessary adjustments as I open up to the possibility of being in an authentic, healthy, loving relationship someday. In this phone call, I was given a sign that I’m on the right path.
Listening to my cousin reminisce about his marriage opened my eyes. The marriage wasn’t perfect. There was a time when we weren’t sure they’d make it. That time was almost thirty years ago. They didn’t give up on each other. They fought to make it work and emerged stronger. He acknowledged and overcame his failings and became the most devoted partner to the very end — insisting on caring for her when others suggested putting her in professional care because he didn’t want her to feel abandoned. And he just didn’t want to. He fed her. He bathed her. He clothed her. He kept a watchful eye at all times when his own health would permit. He sat for hours talking to her as she sat on his lap because she was comfortable and that made him happy. Even as his legs fell asleep. And he’d do it all again because he misses her smile. Her touch. Her voice. Her. He’d do it all again because he loves her.
There’s tremendous power in having that kind of love. And that’s the kind of love I aspire to have. And I’ve learned to be okay with walking away from anything and anyone who isn’t offering that with no regrets.
I’ve become clearer on what I want now, and that’s a direct result of looking back into my past and seeing what went horribly wrong so I can do better. In talking to my cousin and, earlier in the week, my uncle, I was even given the gift of having glimpses into my father’s past that informed some of my not-so-healthy habits. (At least, the ones I hadn’t already figured out.) It appears the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree when it came to giving up everything to be with someone and ending up back at zero. I guess that just means we’re willing to take chances when we believe so strongly that something’s gonna work out. (Although I have significantly reduced my risk factor by asking more questions instead of flying blind and, at the moment, just not dating at all because it’s really fucking scary out there!)
But by far the most important lesson I’ve learned from him, which I realized and mentioned awhile ago but is always worth a re-mention, is to tell the people you love how you feel about them directly and show them in real time. Telling family and friends and random strangers is lovely, but if you aren’t communicating to the person directly, they won’t know or feel it. And while I now understand that we both lacked the nurturing and supportive environments that encourage free expression and healthy communication and conflict resolution in relationships, I really wish I knew then what I know now, so we wouldn’t have wasted so much time denying each other the time and confirmation we needed.
That is my only regret: The years I lost not knowing how dad felt. What he’d been through and was going through. What he really wanted in his life. And why it seemed like he put everyone else’s needs before ours.
The one caveat of his illness is we were both able to forget the painful stuff in order to ensure his final years — much like my cousin’s wife — were as comfortable as we could possibly make them, and brought us closer in a way I’m forever grateful for.
And it’s these memories I cling onto during times like the past few weeks…where instead of celebrating what would’ve been his 80th birthday…I’ve struggled with missing him terribly.
I know this moment will pass. I know there are better days ahead. I know the void I feel right now will be filled in ways even my occasionally active imagination can’t fathom, but will absolutely be ready for when it’s time. And when it’s right.
And I’m confident it’s gonna happen soon…because we just lost a whole hour…so there’s that.