A friend of mine recently asked me what I was doing to distract myself. And I just answered, “Nothing.”
I’ve heard a lot of people say that life is a choice between fear and love. This is a false dichotomy. When you’re worried that your soulmate is dying, fear and love exist side by side. They are twin engines fueling your thoughts, actions, and decisions. I’ve never loved anyone as fiercely and completely as I love Ed, and when he got sick, I’ve never been more terrified in my life. The fear didn’t eclipse my love. If anything, the fear of losing him made me pour even more love into him as if it could nourish him and banish his cancer for good.
If the grief of the past few weeks/months have taught me anything, it’s that so much in life boils down to a simple choice: being present or being distracted. I know a lot of people have regrets over their actions or lack there of over the last few weeks/months/years of Ed’s life. I have tiny baby regrets, but no major ones. I was there as much as possible. I was as present as possible. I did everything within my power to give him more time and better time. So when people try to offer me comfort and consolation by telling me how strong I am, how brave I am, or that I’m some kind of superhero, I think they’re surprised when I just agree with them. Yes, I’m strong. Yes, I’m brave. Yes, I’m a superhero. I was there. I know what I did.
As I adjust to my new reality, I’m choosing to be stubbornly present. I just sit in whatever feelings come over me, as pleasant or painful as they might be. I’ve had to face the fact that the thing I want the most will never happen. I can’t change the reality of the situation no matter how much I wish I could. Despite the fact that I’m going through a big cosmological shift, the reality is this: Ed is no longer physically present and the life he and I planned together has shattered before my eyes. I am not the same person I was before I met him. I’m not the same person I was before he got sick. And if I don’t feel every moment of sorrow, rage, relief, guilt, joy, love, anguish, etc., I’ll never figure out who on earth I am now.
When the grief is so overwhelming I can’t sleep, being present sucks. But if I shut myself down to all the unpleasant feelings, I couldn’t enjoy all the good things that are happening. Between being with Ed and knowing all his friends now, I’ve never felt more loved and supported in my life. I’ve felt safe, secure, and tended to–so much so that I’ve frequently thought, “Oh, this must be what it’s like to be raised in a healthy, stable family.” People check in on me, make me dinner, take me on Pokemon Go raids, and otherwise make me feel like I’m wanted and loved. I couldn’t have accepted this love if I hadn’t been with Ed. Being with Ed is the only reason I’ve been able to survive losing him, as strange as that continues to be.
I let myself have sleepless nights now so that they will lessen over time. If I started running, I’d run forever. I don’t believe everything happens for a reason or that we’re on this earth to learn lessons about life. But I do think that if I can find a lesson in suffering and tragedy, then at least that suffering isn’t completely senseless and meaningless. And finding those lessons involves being present in the mess until I can figure out how to sort through it.