I don’t usually say I “lost” my life mate/soul mate. I just come right out and say that he died, but for some reason I used the word “lost” when explaining my situation to a new acquaintance. She said, “Whenever people tell me they lost someone, I want to say ‘how careless of you.’”
I didn’t take offense. She didn’t directly tell me I was careless, just said that was her inclination, and besides, I too have railed against the word “lost.” I didn’t misplace him. He died. But her words struck a chord with me. I do feel at times as if it were careless of me to have lost him. I should have loved him more, cherished him more, held him so tightly that death could not have wrested him from me.
And yet, I did love him that much for most of our shared life. About twenty years ago, he almost died, and afterward I gave thanks for every day I had with him, cherished every moment knowing how fleeting life could be. For many years he endured ups and downs with his health, and finally there were only downs. During those last few years, I did more things by myself in preparation for the time when I would be alone. I took long ambles, went on trips, found new solitary interests. And this became our life — he dying, me struggling to live.
During those final years, and especially the last one, he turned into a stranger, and I didn’t know how to handle it when he pushed me away except to keep my distance. He was unable to hold thoughts in his head long enough to carry on a conversation, so instead of dialogue, I got only repetitious monologues from him. I bristled at his words, sometimes even clenched my fists to keep from venting my frustration. I didn’t know what was happening to him, to us, and I didn’t know how to stop it.
Now, of course, I know what happened (inoperable kidney cancer that spread to his spleen, to his lungs, to his bones, to his brain), and I think how careless of me to have let one of those final words slip past unappreciated, to have let one moment of our togetherness pass unnoticed.
I was lucky, though. During his last weeks, we reconnected, and I remembered why I had loved him all those years. Once again I cherished every moment we had together, but when he took his final breath, I let him go. He’d been in pain for such a long time, and even if it had been in my power, I would not have kept him here to suffer more.
I’ve worked through my guilt and regrets. I even understand the dynamics of our last years together and realize we both did the best we could in an untenable situation, but still I wish I could go back and capture every one of those words I so carelessly let slip away.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.