Sunday, July 25, 2010

Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of the day. Do it, I say! Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows. -Pope Paul VI

Happy Birthday to my dear husband!  Today would have been his 51st birthday.  He was 39 years old when he died.  A very young man, whose life was chock full of experiences.  He was the kind of person who bounded through life, touched many hearts and made an impression on every person he encountered.  I truly believe, when he was born, he left heaven with the knowledge, his time on this earth would be short because he lived it, full bore, out loud. In fact, when I met him, he was so wise and had so many adventures already behind him, I thought he was older.  In reality, he was six years younger than I. When we married, my dad in his “practical wisdom” celebrated our age difference with the statement, “This is perfect.  Men die about six years younger than women.  You two will die around the same time.”  That was his way of stamping approval and  blessings onto our union!   There is no doubt in my mind this man was placed in my orbit to show me what it feels like to be loved well and influence my approach to life in the future.  He taught me, taking risk, is the only path to growth.  Adventure, is the only path to aliveness. Understanding and non-judgment, is the ony path to true human connection. And, unselfishness and compassion for others is the only path to God. 
Now, I may sound like a biased, grieving widow who has immortalized her spouse in stone and set up a museum inside her own soul. You need to know, he had his shortcomings too.  He was an utter slob when it came to picking up after himself and his procrastination helped me develop patience.  And, he could be stubborn.  I lived with a new bathroom sink at the foot of the bed for many months.  He vehemently refused help in installing it.  But, this was during the time of his sickness, and to accept help, I think he correlated that with admitting to how sick he really was.  Perhaps our character defects complimented each others and good outweighed bad.  Or, we had both matured enough to see what was important in the big picture.  I am not alone in my reverie of this man.  At his funeral visitation, folks stood in line for hours, backed up, out the door to the parking lot, two days in a row. His funeral mass filled our local church.  They literally shut down the offices where I worked, so my colleagues could pay their respects. At the luncheon afterwards, stories were relayed by friends, family and business acquaintences.  Hysterical tales of golf games fit for America’s Funniest Videos, childhood shenanigans from Sailing Club days, humorous incidents in his coming of age, overseas travels gone awry, and so many adventures.  Others relayed stories of his compassion, and reaching out, often to virtual strangers  with the kind of empathy that only comes from a sacred place.  The sentiment, echoed by everyone, whether a professional or social encounter was, this man cared.  He was present, totally in tune, and saw you as I am sure God sees us.  One of our dear friends said, “The thing about Mark, was when he talked to you, you felt like you were the only person in the world and he was all yours.”  Another good friend said, “He saw adventure and an opportunity for fun in everything.  But, strangely, he wasn’t reckless.  You always felt safe and knew that things would turn out well when you were with him.” Others spoke in tender letters and cards, sent afterwards, of our visible compatibility, adoration and acceptance of one another and called our marriage inspirational, especially in the final year of his sickness.  He loved life, his family, his profession, mankind, and most of all.... me!  Best of all, he made you laugh. Long, hard, belly laughs which coaxed a permanent smile out for the rest of your day.  He saw himself, incidents, and opportunities, as most often containing a bit of humor and chose to look at his glass half full. Even when he was dying. Truth be told, I really think he viewed his life as overflowing, and as such invited others to dip into his energy, time, affection and wisdom.  There is a saying, you cannot give away what you don't have.  He had plenty to pass on. 
 Even the earliest days of my grief, I was eternally grateful that he picked me to share in his life and his transition to his new life.  One of the angels (hospice nurses) who comforted him so much in his final days, gave me the CD with a song by Garth Brooks, called The Dance. It was thoughtful, but not necessary. I needed no reminders of the blessing of my time with him, even when the pain of the loss sometimes became unbearable.  We taught each other to tune into the music of the day, and no matter what, dance. For the most part, that has remained with me.  Thoughts of Mark, eleven years later, bring a smile to my face and a new determination to my heart.  Some friends fear I am biased and too picky.  An honest inventory has revealed, that simply is not true.  I am evolved enough to know that there can be many potential mates for us.  It simply is a matter of identifying what is important to you, and how you feel about yourself, when you are together, and more important, apart. I felt alive, safe, valued and flourishing, in my time with him.  I recognize, those are the feelings I need to have again to move forward with someone new. And, I think that is possible.       
In the years since his death, I have had several relationships, and truly fell in love once!  Although, these didn’t end up being long-term, comitted partnerships, I have come to recognize the lessons contained within each, are important ones I needed to learn.  I am so grateful for discovering I could love another, intimately, again. For a time, I thought Mark snatched my heart, and took it with him, to his grave. I’ve been accused of using the measuring stick of my deceased husband’s qualities, in new relationships. Perhaps early on, this was the case. Although, I think I went to the other extreme and settled on people (some very nice) that weren’t a good fit, just to prove to others I was capable of a new relationship. Of course, this made me, and another human being, rather miserable when we struggled to find some non-existent common ground. And, while chemistry cannot be the only gauge for relationship potential, or it is then merely lust,  it is initially important.   Equally harmful, I took a lot of the superficial commonalities I shared with my husband, and when I found them in a new partner, I read them as positive signs, portending a meaningful, intimate, relationship of shared interest.  Preferences and attributes such as professional, intellectual, social, active, enjoyment of travel, good food, enjoyment of the Arts, are all icing on the cake, and keep you sweetly high, in your fantasies of future fun, for a time.  But, eventually, we all need nourishing substance, to maintain good emotional health.  I forgot about the spiritual qualities Mark possessed, which really captured not only my heart, but infused my soul. It’s not very wholesome to enjoy mutual pleasures if you are privately questioning the honesty of your partner’s words, as grammatically correct and intelligent as they may sound!  And, there is no joy to be found in a shared fine dining experience if your partner has eyes for everyone but you!  Or, is incapable of acknowledging you openly, respectfully and honorably, so you can actually share those things you have in common. Despite my friends' statements about my standards being too “deceased husband like” it is still the benchmark I know I must  seek in order to thrive in love, mutual admiration and spiritual growth.  It would sadden him greatly to think I would revert to selling myself so short, especially after the gifts of love and respect, he generously bestowed on me.
While the shared interests I identified are moderately important, I now know I need those spiritual traits in my next relationship as well.   For those are the virtures that engage the holy parts of us and ignite the best in our partners.  I need humor to get me through life’s tests.  I need honesty in order be intimate.  I need integrity as an example to my beautiful little grand-daughters. I need respect in order to continue to respect myself. I need compassion to recognize I am not alone.  I need loyalty to feel safe. I need courage to inspire me to be brave and welcome change. I need adventure to excite and challenge me. I need support to encourage and prop me back up, as I try to fulfill my purpose.  I found all of these qualities in my husband. I am capable, and have the emotional maturity to reciprocate these virtues as well.   If others think this standard is too high, that’s just fine.  I don’t.  I know what is meaningful to me in a partner, in order for me to  become all that God wants me to be.   Now, tell me, what greater legacy could my beloved husband bequeath, than the fruits of a spiritual  intimate relationship?  And, it's  because of that relationship in all its meaning, and purpose, that I  still have the desire, to move forward, striving for happiness, joy and  love  with another human being.
Happy Birthday my dear!  I know, no matter where you are, you are teaching others the importance of doing it now, with authenticity, love, and tons of laughter. 

Death ends a life, not a relationship- Robert Benchley