|Celebrating Robert’s 71st birthday|
“The task of saying good-bye seems insurmountable,” a friend wrote after losing her husband one month ago to the same cancer — multiple myeloma — that ripped my Robert’s life from him. I wrote this to her yesterday:
On August 2, it will be 3 years since I lost Robert. But I haven’t said goodbye to him yet, nor do I plan to. I talk to him still — and sometimes he answers.
I find joy in my life (especially now that my new book has come out and I’m giving talks and interviews), and I’m still startled by the realization that I can’t come home and tell him about what happened. Then I DO come home and tell him about what happened.
Is it magical thinking? Denial? It sustains me, whatever it is. You’ll figure out how to sustain yourself through this loss eventually, but that can’t be rushed. Meanwhile, just be real with your children, and take time for yourself, even if it’s painful. You can’t skip that part.
I really, really recommend counseling — as much as you can get!
If you want to talk, or go for a walk and let any thoughts emerge that need to, I’m available. Even if you want to say, “I’m not ready yet, but I’ll let you know when I am” (which is what I had to tell people who offered early in my grief journey), I’ll welcome your message.
I know that some of my readers have also lost their beloved partners, and I extend my invitation to listen if you want to talk. I wasn’t strong enough to do this at first, but one little step at a time, I got there. So many people helped me when I needed it most that it would give me joy to pass it forward and help others. Email me if you need to share.
I wrote the grief chapter in Naked at Our Age through tears. It was very important to include my own and reader stories of grief, because part of love and sex at our age is, sadly, that one of us will lose the other.
Last week, a woman at one of my talks bought my book, saying that she had just lost her husband. I held her hand and listened, and suggested that she read the grief chapter first. “I already did, while I was waiting. That’s what made me decide to buy it.”
I welcome your comments.
I crawled into Robert’s bed and wrapped my body around his. If I could only get close enough to make the last hour, the last months, disappear. If I could magically erase the despair, the finality of our separation.
I hugged Robert tightly, my own need to be close to him one more time overriding his lack of responsiveness. I wailed his name and listened to his silence, remembering his murmurs, his words of love. I nuzzled my face into his neck as I had many times before, but there was no warmth, no “I love you, sweetheart,” no kiss on the top of my head, no strong arms pulling me into him.
I covered his thigh with mine, snaking my arm under his pajama top so that I could stroke the chest hair I had first touched seven years before. I willed him to respond.
But he didn’t.
I willed him to come back to life.
But he didn’t.
“Do you need some time alone with your husband before the mortuary takes his body away?” the hospice nurse asked me gently. I nodded, shut the bedroom door, turned off the light, and crawled into bed with Robert’s dead body….
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“Promise me you’ll keep doing your work,” Robert said, taking both my hands in his and pressing them to his heart, looking deeply into my eyes.
It was three years ago — end of March 2008 — and we had learned that his body was succumbing to multiple myeloma. There were treatments we could and would try, but this conversation marked the countdown to the end, as I think back on it.
He would have one more month of health — fatigued, but able to live the way he loved — going to his art studio to paint, dancing joyfully, and loving me as if his life depended on it (and maybe it did). Then, as treatments failed, his back fractured in multiple places. The extreme pain led him into another world — a world where love was not enough to heal or even ease the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain.
“Promise me you’ll keep doing your work…”
Our profound sexual connection had powered our relationship for our seven, soul-soaring years together. Neither of us had ever had a relationship as sexually exuberant or as emotionally satisfying! Professionally, our spicy hot afternoon delights propelled me to switch writing topics from health and fitness to senior sex. Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty celebrated our love affair. We married in 2006, the year the book came out.
We already knew that our love wasn’t “forever” the way young people think of it. Besides being seniors, we had the challenge of Robert’s diagnosis — at that point — of leukemia and lymphoma. Our wedding celebrated not only our love, but that six months of chemotherapy had sent Robert’s cancer into remission. We were told we might have ten or more good years of health, a magical gift.
But we didn’t have ten years — we had two.
“Promise me you’ll keep doing your work…”
March 2011: Two countdowns shift in my mind. In August, I’ll face the 3-year anniversary of Robert’s death. (When does it get easier?) But before that, in June, I’ll welcome a new book into the world — Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex — the book I started working on with Robert. In fact, you’ll see that he wrote part of the chapter, “Unlearning Our Upbringing: Men’s Stories.”
I think at our age, those of us who dare to live and love fully have this balancing act between the sweet surprises and rewards of living our dreams out loud and the inevitable losses. Robert gave me the right advice: “Promise me you’ll keep doing your work.” It sustains me and brings me great joy — as does sharing it with you!