Why does a young father die on his way home from work after someone ran a red light? Why does a college student end up paralyzed after diving into the water with his dad? Why does a man who’s wasted his life for years, survive his first heart attack but not my husband, who gave all he had to make a difference? All of these were a result of something unseen in normal, everyday, life situations. They remind me I can’t do anything about what I can’t see so I better do something about what I can see – me and those around me. Whether it’s eating less so I don’t have to buy bigger clothes or expressing my love to those I love; making a difference in the lives I care about. It’s not just seeing either, it’s acknowledging and taking action if action is required. I’ve been eating too much lately because I’m not happy. Do I ignore the weight gain since I’m happy or figure out a new healthier happy? Do I spend 4 hours in a car on a Sunday to spend time with my Mom or let my sisters keep her company? I see – I do.
Life changes stink. I go along, making progress towards not sure what, and then in a moment something happens, turning everything upside down, splitting each day into two extremes, something I’ve never experienced before. There’s still the times of great joy and lots of fun, but now when alone arrives, as it always has, it’s intense, like me and my feeling have been discarded. A friendship, I hoped for, hasn’t happened and so it’s time to let it go. I’ve felt alone before, but I’ve been able to figure out how to balance it with the hope of making a friend here. But, just like I can’t make someone love me, I can’t make someone be my friend. I know I’ve got to replace it with something to get my balance back, but what? Maybe it’s just acceptance, which means figuring out how to enjoy my own company. Then there’s the decision to stick to one of only two things I need from someone else. I feel like I’ve done something wrong. I know I haven’t but why else would I feel dismissed? I’m a giver, not needing much, but that doesn’t mean I have an endless supply of yeses.
There are still days when the pain of his death is overwhelming. The intensity of the grief returning like it did right after waking up to the reality of that event. Anger, unstoppable tears, intense sadness, and feeling sorry for myself, things that I’ve overcome and yet here they are. Is overcome the right word? If not, maybe I haven’t made as much progress as I thought towards accepting, and adjusting to, living alone. People lose lots of things, like the watch I lost recently, not of any real importance; fairly easy to accept, no life adjustment needed. Then there’s the life-changing losses, like a spouse, eye sight, or use of your legs; the things that land in your lap, something you don’t want, impossible to get rid of. But I don’t have to get rid of that loss to overcome it. When I realized I couldn’t let it linger in my lap, I started tossing it into the air, each time higher and higher creating longer and longer periods of time without it. How long should I let it stay after it comes back down? Just long enough to acknowledge its presence and then give it a big toss.
My Mom is now in a nursing home because my sister can no longer take care of her. Her legs no longer work, her hands struggle with the simplest of tasks, her mind is misfiring causing confusion and frustration, yet her pacemaker keeps her heart beating. To me, all these things mean she’s no longer living, that which I would describe as internal organs, as well as muscles and brain all functioning together to move you about and keep you present. This is my first good look at “old age” and it’s something I don’t want to go through. I can’t guarantee it won’t happen by eating well, exercising, and keeping my brain challenged, but these things can’t hurt. I fear ending up in this state more than dying. And yet, “old age” will mean I’ve not only experienced a full, long life, but I’ve shared my children’s as well, and much of my grandchildren’s. In the movie Meet Joe Black, death has a conversation with a cancer patient: “If we lucky . . . we got some nice pictures to take with us.” “You got enough nice pictures?” “Yes.” “Good-bye sister.” My Mom has enough nice pictures; she’s ready to go.
We saw my Mom and my husband’s father when my son was here. We were thinking, this might be the last time, a thought I’ve had before. As our parents got older, it became easier to think their time with us was short and we made the effort more often to visit. This thought never came up regarding my husband, friends, children, or sisters. After all, it’s hard to think this about younger people, a long way off from 80, what I believe to be the age to start entertaining the probability of not being around much longer. I still treat life as a guarantee when I know, better than some, that it’s not. It would be depressing to dwell on this all the time, but I should remember it when it comes to relationships with those I love. Not the start of each encounter, or the middle, but it’s the ending that matters. Hugs, kisses, and words of love at every leaving, at every good night, and more importantly, making sure nothing is left behind to forgive. None of these happened the last time I saw my husband, so I won’t mess up another leaving, last time or not!
Since I asked, I should answer. Do I want to find love again; need to? I’m not sure about want, but I definitely don’t need to. Over these past 6+ years, I’ve created a life that I’m comfortable with, no more than that, many times, happy with. I have a life full of all I enjoy doing and experiencing. Add making a difference in the lives of my grandchildren and I’m overflowing. These things can’t take the place of being loved, but they do make life fulfilling and meaningful. I believe being loved is a special bonus because it’s not guaranteed. There is no promise stating if I love, I’ll be loved in return. It’s not just up to me because it involves the feelings of another person, something I can’t control. What I can control is me, all I do and want to do, and who and what I invest my time in. I’ve lived in a world I couldn’t control for too long so I’m not willing to spend time finding someone to love, longing for their love in return, and waiting for something that might not ever happen. It happened once, powerful enough to still feel loved.
Last night I was reminded that all things are possible. I slept 7 hours straight! Sleep is something that’s eluded me for as long as I can remember. As a kid, my hearing was exceptional. I had the normal kid selective hearing during the day but at night I heard every little noise, waking up often. I’ve gotten less frustrated over the years when it comes to sleep by repeating the phrase, at least I’m resting. Doesn’t always work, but it helps. Believing in what’s possible is hard in the face of something seen as certain, something I seem to accept more readily than possible. There are many things in this world that are certain, like 2 + 2 = 4, and the infamous, death and taxes. Advances in medical technology are chipping away at certainty statements like “you’ll never walk again”. I think it certain that I’ll never find love again. It’s way easier to believe than it’s possible based on where I live and my social life, or rather the lack thereof. I ask myself, do I want to, need to? If not, why not? And if so, can I find it in myself to truly believe in the possibility?