Two Years, Two Months, Two Weeks, And Two Days of Grief

Two years, two months, two weeks, and two days. That’s how long my life mate/soul mate has been dead, and I still can’t make sense of it all — our meeting, the years we shared, his death, my continued life.

Neither of us had every expected (or wanted) to share a life with anyone, and yet we spent more than three decades together. Our meeting was almost miraculous. In a fit of loneliness, he wished he had someone, and the next week, I walked into his store. We started out with such hope, but our life together was no fairy tale. Much of it was wonderful, more vital than anything I could ever have imagined, yet we were trapped by various failures, not the least of which was his increasingly poor health. I was so tired of it all, so exhausted by trying to hold myself together, that a few times that last year I wished he’d die and get it over with. I never said it aloud, of course, but he knew. How could I have been so horrid? Shouldn’t I have been more patient? Wiser? Kinder? It’s a terrible thing, knowing I am not the woman I thought I was.

During the last few weeks of his life, we reconnected, and I remembered why I loved him.

And then he was gone.

I don’t understand how he can be dead. Well, obviously, I understand the biology of it — I watched him die a bit every day for a lot of years — but the man I knew in the form I knew is gone. Forever. I can’t wrap my mind around that. Even worse, I am forgetting him. My memories are drifting off-center, and I no longer feel the truth of him.

People used to tell me that he still exists in memory, but if so, he is dying a bit more every day. There could come a time when I don’t remember him, when I only remember his absence. I can feel it happening already. Some days now it seems as if he were a stranger I knew long ago rather than a person with whom I spent most of my waking hours for more than half my life. I don’t know whether I should cling to the memory of him, even if it is skewed, or if I should let the memory of him fade and simply deal with what life brings me every day.

I don’t understand my continued life, either. Was I really that woman? That woman who watched a man slowly die, who wanted the suffering to end, yet whose love was so ineffectual she couldn’t make him well or take away a single moment of his pain? That woman so connected to another human being she felt shattered into a thousand pieces after his death? That woman who screamed the pain of her loss to the winds? All these months later, I still don’t know how to deal with his death. Don’t know why I continue to be sad. Don’t know why I feel his absence acutely when I barely remember him.

Mostly I’m trying to look at the future as an adventure, but I’ve had so many immense changes in my life in the past few years, with more on the way, that I feel as if I have no foundation to build on. That feeling, at least, is not true. I have the foundation of all I have done, all I have learned, all I have become — what I don’t have is certainty and security (though no one really does).

And most of all, what I don’t have is him. But perhaps I never did? It could be we were simply passing by and stopped to visit awhile before we continued our journeys. Alone.

Learning to Deal With the Real World

It seems strange to have to learn to deal with the real world at my age, but for more than half of my life, I didn’t have to deal with the world as it is. My life mate/soul mate and I created our own world of peace and accord. We always wanted the best for each other without ever a hint of envy or resentment. We helped each other. We listened to each other. We cared for each other and took care of each other. We shared values, income, responsibilities without counting the cost or worrying about who got more than their share. In fact, we often worried that we were taking more than we gave.

It wasn’t like that at the end, of course. Long-term illness skews things, so during his last years, there was often tension and frustration as our lives started to diverge — he to death, me to life alone. We could feel the disruption of our world, and though we were under tremendous stress and occasionally gave in to fits of pettiness, we mostly managed to deal peaceably with each other. To others, however, we appeared to be in perfect accord. During one of their visits, the hospice nurse turned to the social worker and said, “I don’t think they have any idea how much they love each other.”

What we had didn’t feel like love, and yet, what else could it be, this creation of a world where we each gave whatever we could without stopping to count the cost? We didn’t have an easy time of it — so often life took disastrous turns, but still, we were always there for each other.

And now we’re not.

He’s . . . somewhere (or nowhere) and I? I’m here, muddling along as best as I can in this alien world. The world is alien in part because his absence has created a black hole into which so much light has disappeared; in part because I am alone without someone listening, caring, helping; in part because it truly is alien. Though people often say, “We’re all in this world together,” they don’t mean it. People want things and they pursue those things with a passion. Isn’t that what most people think life is about? Finding someone or something to be passionate about? But here is the conundrum — passion takes what it wants and doesn’t count the cost to others. (That is why passion is such a great story driver.)

He and I used to play games where the goal was not to win or lose, but to come out evenly matched. We hated games where one person won everything and the other lost everything. It seemed too cruel. Neither of us wanted to lose, but we didn’t want the other to lose, either, because we knew how much losing hurt. (It probably won’t come as any surprise if I tell you we created our own games.)

We never argued. Well, there was that once, six weeks before he died, but I hate thinking of that. I understand now the horrendous pressure of our lives, but for so long all I could think of was how horrible I was for having my first fight with my mate six weeks before his death. (I understand it now, but I still can’t think of it without tearing up. I never wanted to be that woman.) But for more than three decades, if we disagreed, he’d state his position and I’d state mine (or vice versa). If we couldn’t come to a resolution, we’d walk away (sometimes in a huff, sometimes in frustration). The next day, he’d bring up the subject again, conceding that I was right. Of course, by then I’d have mulled over what he said, and I’d concede that he was right. So we were back where we started. The best thing about it is I knew he’d thought about what I said, he hadn’t just blown me off by walking away.

When he died, my world of accord died, too, and now I live in the world everyone else does — a world where some have way too much and some have way too little. A world where passions tear people apart as often as they bring them together. A world where competition is rampant, where it’s not enough just to win, but also to make sure others lose. A world where small disagreements escalate into battles. Admittedly, this is what the world has always been like, but I didn’t have to deal with it.

And now I do.

Codependency or Interdependency?

Several months ago when I was steeped in grief, I found comfort in the thought that my deceased life mate — my soul mate — was at peace, but then it occurred to me that maybe he wasn’t, that if there was some sort of life after death perhaps he felt as split apart as I did. According to one minister I talked to, my mate could be having problems depending on how codependent he was. Whatever that means. I thought a relationship was about being dependent on each other, and we were. At least until our last year together when we began untwinning our lives so we could go our separate ways — he to death, me to continued life. That’s also why my grief shocked me so much—I thought we had untwinned even before he died.

Shortly after that conversation with the minister, a woman who should have known better accused me of being codependent because I was having such a hard time learning to live without my life mate. (The truth is, I knew how to live without him because I was doing it. What I was having a hard time with was wanting to live without him. Life, of course, doesn’t care what we want, and I continued on to where now I am — mostly “healed.” ) But still, there was that C word again.

I can see that people would have questions about codependency considering how bereft I was without him and how lost I felt, but when he was alive, we were never obsessed with each other, though we were connected in so many ways. We were friends, life mates, and business partners. We always wanted what was best for the other. We helped each other grow. We never expected the other to fix our individual problems, though we often took each other’s advice. We didn’t cling, demand, or base our relationship on unrealistic expectations. Together we provided a safe environment where each of us could be ourselves. And we supported each other any way we could. Yes, we were dependent on each other, but isn’t that what life is all about?

Long-term illness, however, does skew a relationship. Over the years, our world kept getting smaller and smaller, trapping us in a terrible situation where neither his nor my needs were being met. To that extent, perhaps, we were codependent, staying together when others might not have, but what is wrong with that? Still, I’ve felt foolish at times admitting my need for him. In this world that prizes independence so much, it seemed immature and self-indulgent.

But, as one commenter on my Grief is NOT Self-Indulgent post said, “There is nothing foolish in dependence. The foolishness lies in the notion that we are not co-dependant on each other. We are a co-dependant vulnerable species who waste a whole lot of time and cause ourselves much suffering by pretending we are not. There are many reasons why we perpetuate this denial but just as we are dependant on the earth for our physical health so are we dependant on each other for our emotional health.

“Personally I feel there is a strong connection between people not understanding grief and those same people not understanding just how precious and vital their relationships are. Every day I see people not recognizing the value of each other. It often amazes me how much we deny our dependence on each other . . .  we don’t even like the word dependant. Perhaps that is why grief is so hard to witness for then our dependence is there in the open smacking us in the face.” (She developed this idea into a blog post The Illusion of Independence at Leesis Ponders.)

Well, I no longer have to worry about whether we were codependent or interdependent. I am independent now. His death freed me, but for what? I still have to figure that out.