In five hours, it will be exactly two years since my life mate/soul mate died of inoperable kidney cancer. He and I shared so much that even as I am getting to where I can accept the situation, even accept that I might find peace or possibly happiness, I can’t forget that it’s at his expense. I wonder what this feels like from his perspective. I know he wants me to go on, to get what I can from life — he told me that — but still, where is he in all this? At some point, our separation has to be complete, doesn’t it? I have to realize that whatever I say or think or do has no affect on him — it can’t change anything that happened. It can’t bring him back. And I don’t want him back — his death was too hard-won.
Iron Sam, the dying hit man in my novel Daughter Am I, told my hero Mary that a person experiences death only once. Well, my mate’s dying was my experience of death. The utter undoableness of it — the finality — shocked me to my core (and still gives me that falling-elevator feeling of panic when I think of his being dead). That shock must be what can only be experienced once. A prognosis of my own death probably won’t have the same impact on me as his diagnosis. Will I have his strength, his courage? I won’t have him, and that might not be a bad thing. Maybe my death will be easier to handle if I know I’m not going to devastate anyone when I go. (I think about that, how hard it must have been on him to know he wouldn’t be here to comfort me after he was gone.)
People always talk about finding someone to grow old with (and oh! I so do not want to grow old alone), but I’m not sure growing old with someone is a blessing. Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of very old couples (this area is filled with hospitals, doctors offices, oncology clinics, pain treatment centers, nursing homes) and I try to imagine what it would be like for the two of us to deal with each other’s old age infirmities. I’m glad he’ll be spared that. It was hard enough for him to die without having to worry about my dying, too.
I wish he were waiting for me on the other side of grief so we could start a new life together, and in a way he will be there — he is still so much a part of me. Maybe literally a part of me. If we’re all made of stardust, if everything is commingled, how much more commingled are we who spent so many decades in each other’s company! The biorhythms of people who live together ebb and flow in sync. Benign and not so benign viruses carry cell information from one to the other, intermingling physical bodies on a cellular level. As one of my fellow bereft reminded me yesterday, “The heart puts out an electrical field which is measurable and it intertwines with the electrical field of the other loved one and when that is gone, the body knows it and feels the loss.”
I’ve heard that every seven years a person’s cells completely turn over, so that in seven years you become a different person. In seven years, then, maybe I won’t feel such yearning for him since he will no longer be written into the fabric of new cells. But beyond the physical commingling, there are all the movies we watched together, the books we shared, the thousands upon thousands of hours of electric conversation, the ideas we developed, the businesses we created — all those are part of me.
But there is so much that will never be part of my life again. His smile nourished my soul, his laughter warmed my heart, his voice soothed my ears, his wise counsel eased my mind.
How have I survived such enormous losses? One day a time, that’s how. Sometimes one tear at a time. And so two years (minus five hours) have passed.