There are times I wonder how I’m functioning so well, so soon.
Part of it is the well stocked grief toolbox I seem to have around me. I am amazed at the resources I find around me for handling this journey through loss. There is no manual for this experience, partly because it plays out differently for every individual. Still, I keep finding myself turning right to my own life for the things I need, not grabbing a book or seeking help from others on their own journeys. I do those things some, but the core resources seem always to be already close at hand.
I’ve written about Barbara’s own losses in her life a lot already. That has been my bedrock in all this, but in the end, she lost her parents, not her love and companion of thirty years.
She went from diagnosis to gone in less than a week. The trauma level on that is just off the scale. So why am I handling this so well? Sure I’m beat up, I have mini-breakdowns, I don’t smile all that much, but why am I not still a complete pile of rubble at this point? As much as I hate to think it, the best explanation I can find is simply:
I always knew it would come to this. Not exactly this, but something like it.
I never talked about it with anyone, not even her. She never talked with me about it, but she did talk to my brother-in-law about it, a few years ago, after my mother’s death. She always expected she would be the first one to go.
It was hard to avoid the reality that the strength and resiliency of her personality was not matched by her body, but rather a reaction to it. She wasn’t sickly, she wasn’t frail, yet it was clear this particular cat had used up more than a few of those nine lives just making it to adulthood. I never thought the day would be this soon, I thought it was at least a decade or two away. Every time those thoughts came up, I smashed them back down, but it was always there in the background.
It affected so many things we did over the years, those seemingly reckless decisions. The rush to have the family, all three right away, then stopping irrevocably when we were so young. Perpetually running life on fast forward. She was always in a hurry to learn some new thing, acquire some new skill, and then rushing on to a new obsession. Packing it all in fast.
I was never inclined to say no to her, to wait until a better time that might never come. I didn’t try to play the long game, because for her, that was a poor bet. All that money spent on New York theater was well worth it. I have a boatload of memories of those times, and it helps to soften the loss of the retirement together we never got.
The only regrets I have are from the last few years when I tried to play that long game, taking the risk to join a new company in order to build that retirement nest egg, for a retirement she would never see. She suffered all the misery of the struggle while we were fundraising, and she will never see anything from it.
So here I am, alone at mid-life, surprised at the timing, but not the outcome. I expected when we started this would be a fairy tale, not one of the Disney versions, but the Grimm kind. Most people believe their fairy tales will end with “and they all lived happily ever after”, but that’s impossible on the face of it. “Happily ever after” isn’t the end, it’s the middle, and we had a glorious middle.
In the Grimm tales, every happiness has a price. This grief is a fair price for the thirty years we had together, for the three grown children we raised, each one more a reflection of an aspect of her than of me, for her joy at watching her grandchildren play, for the granddaughter who looks more like her every day.
I chose the girl with the quick wit, the irresistible smile, the open heart, the eyes you could get lost in, the endless charm, and the body all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t completely fix. I signed up for this grief thirty years ago, and I bear it willingly now.
All in all, it’s a bargain.