In our lives, there is love and death. Like some crazy movie script, these two realities are intertwined; woven like some twisted joke that gets played on everyone.
Most of us know love. We know the feeling that comes from falling in love and finding that special person. Sometimes, it takes us a few swings of the bat to get the home run, but ultimately it happens for us. But, when you put yourself out there for another person, you open yourself up to loss. Sometimes it happens when you are old and grey, other times it happens when you are just grey. Sometimes it happens after 50 years, others after 21.
At the ripe old age of 16 I met her. I thought it was pretty cool that she wanted to play football with the guys on Saturday. Years later I learned that was her way of trying to get my attention. There was something special about her, something magical.
We had our starts and stops, especially during the college years. But we found ourselves together, ready to take on he world and all the things that would come our way. We moved 6 times, to three different states. We found ourselves wrapping our head around infertility, the loss of a parent, the loss of an unborn child.
In our life, I learned so much from our time together. We grew up together, we learned how to be adults together. We learned how to parent an autistic child together. And yet, in her death, I learned so much more about life; so much more about what it means to give yourself up for another person.
Ours was not a perfect union, none-are. However, it was ours, the good and the bad. For 10 days shy of 21 years, she was my better half. We truly complimented each other. Where I was strong, she was weak. Where I was weak, she was strong. And 10 months after getting the intital diagnosis, the life was taken from her eyes.
Those who have gone through loss, gone through grief know that life is not replaceable. What was lost is forever lost. You can never replace one human being with another. What you had stays with you forever; what you lost stays with you for the remainder of your days. It is what it is and you are forever changed.
Reading all of that might drive some to the edge. I’m going to live with this for the rest of my life? Yes, but hope springs eternal. The human heart is made for love. There is an infinite ability to expand, to love. I remember a story my mom told when my brother John asked her which one of your kids do you love best? She told him that she loves each one equally, even though the real answer was child number 3.
When the time came to open myself up to a new life, I was willing to risk the pain, the loss, the grief, all in the name of unforseen happiness for an unknown amount of weeks, months or years.
There was the fear of being letdown, the fear of opening up and being shut-down, the fear of not having what I had with Theresa. I was going to have to risk all of that in order to move forward in life. And that was OK. What I had with Theresa was unique to Theresa and I. What eventually would come next would be unique to me and the woman lucky enough to share deep and unrelenting love of life, post loss.
They say that expectations are often our greatest hurdle to happiness. We expect perfection, we expect familiarity, we expect the happy ending. But happy endings are a lie, a giant pile of BS. For in every ending, there is sadness. It doesn’t matter if it happens when you are 95 or 45. Goodbye means an ending and in an ending there is always some sadness. In the mortal life, joy comes from the journey, not the destination.
It takes a unique person to love again after great loss and a special soul to accept such love. That love is ripe with complexity, rich hues and detailed tapestries. The grieving grasp the shortness of life and appreciating the beauty of the moment. Those who have lost know that nothing is guaranteed. To those whom who much is given, much is expected. I have been give many gifts through the process. We pray in our Divine Liturgy, “For every good gift, ever perfect gift is from above, coming down from You the Father of lights”. I’ve been blessed beyond all comprehension to have found my good gift, my perfect gift.
Jennie and I are both Chapter 2’s, coming to that place in life by vastly different paths. Things that she has to deal with are foreign to me. There is no shared custody for me, there is no having to put on a happy face in front of her kids with the guy who tossed their life into chaos. There is another woman in her kids life, someone she has to share 1/2 of the kids time with. All of these things are unique to spouses of divorce. I told Jennie one time that I think it is easier to deal with the death of a spouse than it is to deal with the death of a marriage through divorce. I’ve held her hand, talked her off the ledge when her ex-spouse changed his mind over custody and parental visitation. When he sat in her kitchen and lied to her face, saying he wasn’t changing his mind on custody when he had already visited with an attorney to begin the process of changing the arrangement.
In those differing paths, I see pain in our kids. For Ryan, it’s the sadness of never seeing his mom again, never hearing her voice, never having her attend the milestones in his life. In a strange twist of irony, the pain for Jennie’s girls comes from the pain of having both of their parents in their lives, just not at the same time; sharing their mom with a new man and his kid; sharing their dad with a new woman and her kids. Travelling to a new home every couple of days.
And yet, there is such great hope for all of us. The joy of hearing Ryan ask when we are going to see the girls again, the joy of hearing him tell her good night and love you. The joy of hearing him say he can’t wait until we are all in the same house. The joy of getting pictures from Jennie’s girls, the silly faces, the smiles, the overwhelming use of emojis. The crazy roadtrip to San Diego, the joy of seeing the first reconciliation. The joy of having in-laws who actually like me. The joy of #GUTI. Both of us are mending while we are blending.
We are born to love, wired to connect and long for companionship. I’ve been blessed with two great loves in this life. While they share many great qualities, they are not comparable. Each have a spot in my heart, each of them is unique and wonderful.
Jennie is my perfect complement. In those areas where I’m weak, she is so strong. In those areas where she is weak, I’m the strong one. My girl is a feeler and that is rubbing off on me. It is well with my soul. They each have a place in my life, like independent chapters of a damn good book.
For those who face a similar fork in the road, quiet the crowd and listen to the voice of your own heart. You are not required to live your life within a box built by a stifled culture that is unwilling to accept growth, change and re-birth. Learn the fine art of saying $#@% off.
My priest likes to ask the question how many books are there in the bible. When someone rightly answers 73, he says no, there are 74. The 73 the church included and the last one you are writing. With all due respect to Father, there are 75 in my book. This is your life to live. This is your story to write. Your loss did not end your ability to write new chapters in your book of life. After all, the chapters you still have to write might well be the best part of your story.
I so love my chapter 2 and I believe it will be the best damn story written by man. Every good gift, every perfect gift is from above coming down from You the Father of lights. Jennie Stine, you are my good and perfect gift.