A letter to Car: Your husband

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Dear Carolyn,

I remember coming back to the office in the afternoon after I attended your funeral and told Melanie, “It was beautiful how he loved her. He spoke so well of her. He spoke to his sons about who she was in a remarkable way that taught us all a little about what makes for loving relationships and a lasting legacy.” It was beautiful what he said about you to his kids while the rest of us 1000 or so people listened in.  He really loved you.

The minister at the funeral told us about a conversation he had with you three days before you died.  You were dying, and tired and in pain, and you spoke at length about your husband and your marriage, and the life you created together. I find that powerful…of all the things you could have chosen to say to the pastor, you used the energy and the time that day to speak of your love.  What a presence of mind he had to turn on the recorder on his phone so that he could quote you directly at the funeral.  He said that you told him that you had won the lottery in marrying J.

The minister said that you loved being married to him, and valued him, and loved him for more than just his accomplishments.  J. told me later he didn’t even know what you were referring to when you talked about his accomplishments.  We all do that, don’t we–don’t see the good we do the way others who love us see it?

He loved being married to you too. In fact, he often says that one of the reasons he can love again is that he knows love so well from loving and being loved by you.

His world was awash in grey for months after you died.

He used to wake at 4:00 am, dreading the day ahead, because you wouldn’t be in it.  He couldn’t sleep though. Grief does that to people.

He told me about the physical ache, almost a dull pressure, that was in his chest.  It pressed on him all the time, and he felt like he couldn’t get a deep breath.

His workers told him that when he showed up at the job site in the morning, he would take a huge deep breath with a heavy sigh as let it out.  They thought it meant he was frustrated with what they had done before he got there and felt judged and discouraged.  They misunderstood completely.  What he was really doing was mustering up energy he wasn’t sure he had to soldier through that day without you.

We all do that too, don’t we? We see what others do as a reflection of how they feel about us…and so often what others do has everything to do with what is going on inside.

Even though he couldn’t even quite see straight during those days through the haze of desperate loneliness, I remember him telling me that there was a part of him that knew that it was gonna get better–that he would get through it, and that one day he would smile again.  That might sound callous to some, but only if they didn’t know that this wasn’t his first rodeo.  You both learned about the rawness of hardcore grief when heart of your little daughter stopped at only three and a half weeks of life many years ago. Though it seemed impossible then, you and he learned years ago that smiles and laughter would come again.

He knew his heart would heal eventually, because it had before…but he just didn’t know how or when.

He told me a lot of stories about you…and wished others would ask you so he could tell more stories about you to more people. He wanted to talk about you, to share his memories of you…and he would long for folks to say, “Tell me something about Car”.  He was itching to have you be a part of conversations.

A long time after I got to know him, he told me about one of the conversations he had with you.  It happened the day before you died.  You told him that it was OK for him to find somebody else after you were gone. Tell me, Car…how is it that you had the presence of mind in the midst of the pain and the suffering to release him to the potential of a new relationship after your death?

Who does that? The answer: You.  You did that.

That was awesomely thoughtful of you, at a time anybody would have forgiven you for being completely self centred.

He thought that was “crazy talk” at that time, and he didn’t want to hear it. Couldn’t hear it at the time. But now, much later, it is an incredible gift to him for which he is grateful.  I marvel at your thoughtfulness of him even in the midst of dying.

Your thoughtfulness…well, he says it has helped him become more thoughtful.  Often, when I tell him something that I appreciate him, he’ll say something like, “Car was like that…I learned it from her,” or, “I admired Car for that, and I guess some of that rubbed off on me.”

We went shopping the other day at Costco.  I lifted the sodas from the bottom of the cart to the conveyor belt by the cashier…and he lunged at me–trying to grab them out of my hands.  He tries to save me from lifting the mixer from the bottom drawer, or shovelling snow. He forgets that I have two good arms, that there is no cancer in my bones–he is so used to being protective and caring. He has told me how very much he loved taking care of you.  How cancer had taken away so much from you both, but it had given him the opportunity to love on his wife in a way that had him feel valuable and useful.

He is endearingly protective from years of being there for you–and it kills him to know that even with all that protecting he did, it wasn’t enough.  He couldn’t protect you from the cancer.  Sometimes it feels like he is a little desperate to protect me, to shield me from hard stuff in ways he couldn’t for you.

He learned a lot about what a good marriage looks like by being married to you.  He told me that you and he decided to tackle cancer together so that it would be a battle that would unite you rather than drive a wedge between you.  It wasn’t always easy, and you both had to make difficult choices to vote for the relationship.

His relationship with you was far from perfect–you know that too.  Anytime you get two humans spending that much time together, there are going to be rubbing points. Duh. He was candid to tell me how he failed you and what he wished he had done differently.  And one of the things that struck me early on in our friendship was how he could speak honestly about what he saw as the broken parts of you that ended up cutting him at times–and yet still long for you incredibly. The two of you had times when you really had to work at it–but you guys did–and that mattered.

He often says, “I can love you because I have been loved well, and I learned how to love by being married to Car.”  I love that.

Anne Lamott: You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp

It’s hard to watch him miss you even still.  He grieves. He still aches for you.  So many years together…it’s hard to watch the man I love hurt.  And I see how he hurts for you and its hard to watch someone I care so deeply for to hurt so much.

He limps.  The loss of you changes him.  But it makes his laughter sweeter, his kindness richer, and his thoughtfulness more stunning. Your death creates cracks that are slowly healing–the light that shines through the cracks is exquisite.  Your life created strength and beauty that will last forever, and changes even how he grieves for you.  Your love prepared him for your death.

You are often a part of our conversation.  I ask him regularly, “When did you ache for Car today?” He will tell me about a memory from when you were young and healthy and laugh about the great time. He will tell me about a night when you were so sick and he was so scared. So often you come up as a part of our day to day conversation–you will not be forgotten–you can’t be forgotten because you were such a huge part of the lives of so many I care about.

Thank you for your input into my life. I will always be grateful.  I will always be sad that he didn’t get to grow old with you, even as I marvel at the incredible man I am now in love with, and look forward to spending decades with.

I know now that we never get over great losses. We absorb them and they carve us into different often kinder creatures Gail Caldwell quote. Poster by Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnpeg

He is indeed a kinder, gentler creature. And you are a big part of that.  Thanx, Car.

Part of a series:  Letter to Car: You

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