Two weeks ago we had to put down our sixteen year old cat, Milly. One thing that makes this particular loss hard is my own beliefs about it. I notice having thoughts like, “Well, she wasn’t a person.” I’m trying to talk myself out of grieving for that old kitty. It’s quite possible that trying to talk myself out of feeling loss is a testament to just how much I feel her loss. I am saddened when I think about Milly. I had known her just as long as I had known my husband. Now that she is gone, I think of all the times I was feeling down and she would climb up in my lap and purr for affection. That cat was better at love than most people I know. She got what comfort really is: sitting with people, looking them in the eyes, patiently waiting, and giving what you can. She will be missed.
Then a few days later, my husband’s grandmother had passed away. For a few days, I couldn’t make sense of the world. Painful life events weren’t going to be rationed out. Requests to God or the Universe to spread out the loss over time would not be heeded. All of this was going to happen now and just like this.
I am grateful that during these difficult times that my husband and I are able to turn toward each other for comfort. I’m also grateful for all of my work with the TIMBo program, which has given me the ability to stand in difficult emotions more easily. My husband actually was a great model for “supportive bereavement partner” when I had lost my Dad. At moments when I felt clueless as to what to do or say, I would remember that Justin would probably just hold onto me and not say anything. He was good at that. Maybe Milly learned to how to love from Justin.
Holding on and saying nothing is hard. In fact, it’s damn near courageous just because it leaves me to sit with every single thing that will arise: the desire to fix, the urge to diffuse discomfort with humor, the need to inject flowery advice and platitudes. When you are faced with your mortality (or someone else’s) you discover just how vulnerable you are. In the midst of holding the space for his grief, I realized just how much I needed and was accustomed to having my husband around. For this independent lady, admitting that feels simultaneously heart-warming and terrifying.
It’s scary because nothing is permanent, and unless he and I decide to Thelma and Louise it off some cliff in the Ozarks together, one of us is going to go first. And then I remember that the part of me that says he could be gone at anytime is the part of me that wants me to keep my arms closed. The part that always prepares for the inevitable end can’t love here and now. If I can’t love him here and now, then…well, that’s how marriages begin to end. If I can’t keep my arms open, I can’t hold up my end of this marriage deal.
I’ve held my husband close to me these past few weeks, and it has felt this odd combination of pain and joy: pain that I can’t bear his grief for him, but joy that he chose to fall into my arms. Feeling this pain/joy combination is the hard part of love, but I think it’s what makes all relationships stronger. It’s teaching me how to love greatly like my husband does, like Milly did, just by holding on and saying nothing.