Tuesday, January 08, 2013

It's more than losing someone you love...

Letting go of 'golf carts'...

In my English 11 class today, I was sharing with my students why I missed the last week of school before our two week Winter Break. I told them about the death of my best friend and going to Ohio to tend to the details and the pieces I could tend to.

While I was talking I had a realization. Maybe it is a realization that everyone knows about and I am late to the party - wouldn't be the first time :).

The realization worked its way up from the murky depths of my unconscious when I wrote the extra credit assignment on the board today - write an essay about, 'one event that changed your life.' I explained that they were young, and it didn't have to be a huge event. It didn't have to be as difficult as the death of a friend. It could be the death of a favorite pet, or a divorce, or a huge argument with a friend that ended a friendship. It could be a positive event, a trip they took, a race they won, a competition they participated in, a summer camp. Regardless of the event, when they look back on it, they had to realize they had changed - something inside them saw the world a little differently. Assignments like this can be tricky. Some students really don't like writing about their lives and I don't force them to do so, thus the 'extra credit' part of the assignment. And, as always, if a student is genuinely uncomfortable or can't think of an event, that student can come to me and we figure out a different assignment, together.

But I started thinking about why I put that assignment on the board. And the realization that was bubbling below the surface of my awareness, came to light.

I was telling my students about my 'big future plans' with Candace. We used to sit up at night and laugh about our future. We would talk about how we were going to get little cottages near each other by the water. We were going to get golf carts. Every morning, rain, sleet, or sun, like postmen, one of us would throw on her slippers and bathrobe, jump in her golf cart, and head over to the other one's cottage where coffee and something homemade would be waiting. Coffee cake, bread with homemade apple butter, donuts, whatever our latest experiment was, we'd share it in the morning over coffee. We'd trade off days making breakfast for each other. We'd talk about politics, about Madalyn and Grant, about husbands. We'd get dressed and go make flower arrangements at the Senior Center. We'd take bus trips with the other seniors and laugh about that crazy bus trip we took together so long ago. I'd be writing novels, she'd be planning our next adventure. We had plans! We had stories we wanted to tell. We had adventures we wanted to share. We had a future we were creating.

And that was when I realized, when you truly love someone and they die,  you aren't just losing the immediacy of the present with them. You are losing the 'future' of them.

Last summer, Candace went on a trip with her husband. She was excited to spend some alone time with him; they hadn't really had the chance to do that since Madalyn was born. When her husband was diagnosed with cancer many years ago, doctors only gave him a few years to live. He's lived much longer than 'expectations' and is doing very well right now. One of the things we talked about when she returned from her trip, was how, while they were on the road, the two of them 'future planned'. She said, "You know MK, ever since he got sick, we haven't dared to future plan. We've been so caught up in the present and his getting chemo and staying alive, then my getting chemo and staying alive, that we lost that ability to dream about the future. I didn't know how much I missed that. On our trip together we talked about growing old, we talked about things we wanted to do with the house, we talked about the kids and college, we talked about moving to the lake someday. It was really great to reconnect like that. It reminded me how much I love him."

Until I lost Candace in December, I didn't really understand what she meant. I mean, I understood it on a head level. It made perfect sense that she hadn't had the opportunity with all the cancer around her to 'plan the future' with her husband - but I didn't really 'get it'. When I lost Candace, I realized on a heart level that I had also lost the future with her. Not just her laughter on the phone, her telling me how sexy my blond hair looked, her telling me how much weight I'd lost and how great I looked (even when I hadn't lost a pound), her telling me how happy she was that I was finally happy in my life and had met someone so loving and 'worthy' of me, her excitement about meeting my boyfriend for the first time (something she never got to do), the absolute joy she felt whenever she talked to me - the same joy I felt talking to her. Even when she was upset, angry, in pain, or scared, she shared those things with me in the context of "this too shall pass". I remember in August of this year, her doctors told her that her liver was doing better. When she told me on the phone, we both let out whoops of joy and said, "HELLO GOLF CARTS!" No one but us understood that reference, but I realized even then, even when in the back of my mind I thought, "I don't know that there will ever be golf carts", I was excited and I held on to the hope that our shared future included those golf carts.

Perhaps there will still be golf carts in my future. I don't know. Even if there are, it won't be the same. Of course I will carry Candace in my heart for the rest of my life, but there will be no shared breakfasts, golf carts or floral arrangements.

Losing Candace in my present, also means losing Candace in my future. I realized that is a large part of my grief. Having to let go of all those dreams and hopes for what we would be doing 'tomorrow'. I'm fortunate I have no regrets about what we did in our past together. And I am fortunate that in the time I knew her, we had almost enough adventures for a life time.