Bear with me, I’m about to become slightly mushy and romantic (and potentially depressing). It’s all for the sake of getting to the point, I promise. Reader discretion is, however, advised. You’ve been warned.
I love my husband.
We all say that and mean it; some more than others. I truly do love my husband. Admittedly, ours didn’t start as a romance. We were co-workers, sort of, and friends. Our relationship required some (read as: an extreme amount of) prompting on my part. He was hard not to fall in love with: generous, funny, smart…and not hard on the eyes. He just radiated love and light. Every one of our friends considered him family.
I feel very fortunate to be able to call him mine.
Mind you, he has flaws. The man is irritatingly unable to be on time, even if I tell him the wrong time in hopes he’ll be on time. He owns cats. All right, it might not be a flaw, per se, but if you had to live with the three felines you might understand and feel differently. Bless him, my husband also has the world’s worst memory, unless you count the girl from 50 First Dates. Without a list, Milo is lost and will always forget something. Always.
Which brings us to this morning (I swear, this has a point!). As I was fighting yet another bought of nausea/hunger –an odd sensation let me tell you—and making a light breakfast, I happened to notice Milo’s pill container on the counter. He has been taking a pill to regulate his heart rhythm since March and it requires prompt consumption; it must be taken exactly every 12 hours (give or take a few minutes). Milo had opted for eight in the morning and a night, which works out well most of the time. However, his work schedule keeps him until ten am, which meant his pill would be two hours late. Being the anal retentive annoyingly pesky wife that I am, I decided that I would bring the pill to him on my way to work. His job is conveniently around the corner from our home and on the way to my work. No harm, no foul.
When I arrived, Milo’s back was to me and he was busy talking. I didn’t want to get out of the car since I really needed to jet once he had his pills. So, I did what any pressed for time woman would do: I called his cell. When he answered, I bypassed the hello with, “You have an awfully nice ass in those pants…”
And he laughed.
Have I mentioned I love his laugh? It’s contagious. Just his laugh makes me smile and feel all warm and toasty inside. When I actually have the opportunity to hear it in person and see his big, beautiful smile with his bright, brown eyes…well, it’s pure heaven for me. I just melt every single time.
On the way to work, I was thinking about his fabulous laugh and smile, only to find myself crying. It was an abnormal reaction, admittedly, but when I dug deeper into the emotion I easily realized what was wrong: I worry about him. Milo had a rough patch before me and I have since been complimented many times on how much I brought to his life. I don’t know if he realizes he brought as much to mine, but he did. We were meant to be with each other and I know without him I’d be completely lost. It would be like half of me was missing.
If I don’t survive cancer –which I will so I shouldn’t be worried—I’m not scared for me. I’ve lived, granted not as long as I wanted or planned to, but I have. I’ve heard a baby call me Mama, raised a family (okay, so they weren’t my children but still), travelled, and loved. I’ve had experiences. I would have no regrets, just a lot of things left to do on a checklist that isn’t really that important.
I just don’t know what would happen to the man I love more than myself.
Eventually, Milo would be fine. He’d pull through with the amazing support of his family and friends (seriously, I lucked out because his people are truly blessings!). He’s a survivor. Yet, my husband would be hurt; he would suffer. I can’t stand the thought of him having any pain in regards to me. My biggest fear isn’t that I won’t survive; it’s that if I don’t, my husband would crumble. I fear what he might become because he was wounded again. He doesn’t deserve that; heck, he doesn’t deserve to be suffering along with me right now. Have I mentioned how remarkable he is?
These thoughts brought me back to nursing school. A very wise nursing instructor of mine once asked us to complete a project we all found a tad bit strange and depressing. Once I started it, however, I realized it was a chance to understand what a dying patient must go through. Though I am not dying, nor do I intend to for at least the next fifty years, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this assignment and my response since my diagnosis.
The task: write your own eulogy.
I wish that you who love me do not mourn my passing but instead celebrate a life that was lived. Remember me as a woman of conviction and passion, one who has had the pleasure to be a mother, a sister, a nurse and a teacher –but please do not define me by those titles. We all have had roles in our lives, but we are so much more. Our lives are so much more. They are a complicated mess of convention, irrationality and leaps of faith. Takes those leaps with your eyes wide open; you don’t want to miss the fall any more than you want to miss the pleasure of a successful landing. It’s like bungee jumping…without the giant rubber band.
I have seen the sun rise along the New York Harbor and watched it set over the shore of Malibu. I have traveled the world and still I returned to the place that meant most to me every time: Tucson, my home. It was the one I was most reluctant to accept and still I can’t imagine having never lived in the desert of Arizona. It is where I found some of my truest friendships and deepest love, both that of others and of myself. It’s where I finished becoming me and found acceptance (both internally and externally).
The game of life was played by my own rules, shaped slightly by those of society and convention, and I couldn’t have had more fun. I have sung my heart out, badly, and suffered a broken heart. I have loved: both those who I have been privileged to call family and those select few that have become that by my choice. I have also been loved as a friend, a sister, a spouse and a child. I have given my heart and my time to those in need, worked hard for what I had and, when all else failed, found a career that made me passionate. Never one to give in, my determination might have caused some headaches, but there were no regrets. Every wrong turn, every hurt feeling, everything I experienced was a lesson I learned from. Lessons I wish I could pass on to you, but know that you too must feel a tinge of regret, the throb of a broken heart and the rush of true love and friendship before it can be truly understood. The hardest lessons to learn are the ones that we first must suffer. Remember, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel (just hope it isn’t a train.)
Hold on to your memories and savor that time you fell roller skating, the first time you were kissed, dancing in the rain (even if you were twenty-seven and in the nursing school parking lot when you did it.) Those moments will help define you and when you have moments of darkness they are what will bring you back into the light. Save old notes and photographs, you never know when the kind word someone once told you might be needed to give you that extra boost. Listen to your parents; they know more than you might want to believe. Question and don’t be afraid to explore; that cat didn’t die in vain. He probably knew a lot at the end of his curiosity…things you’ll only know if you follow in his footsteps and search the world. There are plenty of mysteries, don’t let your life be one of them. Mine wasn’t.
Life is risky: a combination of missed opportunities and moments that take your breath away. I never allowed myself to be lost in either, always believing that there was a reason and an answer around the corner. I want my end to be a lesson to you all: the only way to live is to put yourself out there, to take chances and to try. The scariest things I ever did turned out to be the ones that I not only enjoyed the most, but that brought me to people that meant the most. Going back to school was hard, but it brought me a new career and people I loved. Moving away from my childhood home was the hardest thing I ever did, but it allowed me to become defined on my terms and not another’s. I will suffer not where I am, allow yourself not to suffer either. Love, lose but never ever forget who you are…and live every moment as if this might be your last.
It’s never too early to learn a few lessons. Cancer is teaching me to let go, relax and enjoy the ride; you never know where or when it will end. Sharing will all of you is freeing and cathartic. I only hope you equally find peace.
And, should something happen, I ask one thing. Someone please take care of my wonderful husband. He’ll need it.