Saturday, December 3, 2011

How Do You Do That?

The tears surprised me.  They shouldn't have.  I'm naturally emotional, over-sensitive. That's what made my boyhood so difficult.  I felt everything acutely.  The cruel words at school, my father's emotional abandonment, my mother's resentment.  I held it all in back then, wondering what was going on, thinking every family was the same.  Now, it surfaces easily.  Must be my age.

I'm at the point in the book about Steve Jobs where he learns he has a sister, born of the same two parents he grew up not knowing.  Her name is Mona Simpson.  She's a published writer, like I hope to be someday.  I wanted to learn more about her, so, on my MacBook, I googled her name.

I learned she wrote a eulogy for her brother, who died early this past October, which was published in The New York Times.  I imagined her standing in front of the congregation, delivering the words I read.  I imagined myself, delivering my mother's eulogy when she eventually passes, wondering if I'd be able to get through the experience, if everyone would forgive me for falling apart in front of them.

Everything is seen through the filter of age now.  We're all so much older than I ever expected we'd be, even twenty years ago.  Things happen.  That's life.  We don't know how long we have. We don't know when those we take for granted will be gone.  Everything has a beginning and an ending.  Nothing lasts forever.  Nothing.  Except, I have to believe, love.  I count on love to last forever.          

In this context, I read Simpson's words, the scattered memories she had of her brother, whom she didn't meet for the first time until she was an adult.  Early on, she writes, "Even as a feminist, my whole life I'd been waiting for a man to love.  For decades, I'd thought that man would be my father [who had abandoned her when she was five].  When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother."

When I was thirty-two, I met that man, and he was my partner, Chris.

Jobs's illness takes up much of Simpson's eulogy.  She writes, "...Steve became ill and we watched his life compress into a smaller circle.  Once he'd loved walking through Paris.  He'd discovered a small handmade soba shop in Kyoto.  He downhill skied gracefully.  He cross-country skied clumsily.  No more."

Chris loved walking through Paris, too, when we were there three years ago.  Even now, when I ask him what he enjoyed most about our trip, of all the things he could say, he says walking everywhere.  Chris isn't a man of superlatives, like I am.  But I know, from walking side-by-side with him the two weeks we were in France, and from talking to him about it since, he was deeply moved by that experience.  I'd bet we walked some of the very same streets and bridges and alleyways Steve Jobs did.  My heart knows why he loved it there so much.

Simpson describes her brother learning to walk again in a Memphis hospital after his liver transplant.  He used a chair to support himself, pushing it slowly down the hallway, stopping to rest in it when he reached the nurses's station.  Then, getting himself up, he turned "...around and walked back again."  Laurene, Jobs's wife of twenty-plus years, ' down on her knees and looked into his eyes.  "You can do this, Steve," she said.  His eyes widened.  His lips pressed into each other.'

I don't know which of us will need a chair in a hospital to learn how to walk again, but I imagined it was Chris, and there I was, down on my knees and looking into his blue eyes, the very ones that warm me when I look into them now, that reach the essence of who I am like no others do, that tell me I'm home, exactly where I'm meant to be.  I can't imagine looking into them at some time in the future, and seeing fear, and infirmity, and mortality.  It would rip me apart.  I know I couldn't do it.

That's when I couldn't see the computer monitor, when I had to wipe the tears away.  I never want to see Chris like that.  How could I look at him and see anything less than he is during our best years together?  When a small pile of twigs he placed for pick-up on the grassy boulevard in front of our house, representing him and everything I love so much about him, brought me to tears, how could I ever face him struggling with a life or death illness, knowing he could be taken away from me at any moment?  How could I be strong for him when I couldn't be strong for me? How does any human being get through something like that?  

Hours before Jobs died, Laurene lying " to him on the bed sometimes jerked up when there was a longer pause between his breaths."  I imagined that was me on a bed, my arms wrapped around Chris, inhaling his sweet, familiar scent, monitoring his breathing, knowing the end was near, the pillow beneath my head wet.  

How do you let go of the one true love of your life, knowing he will never return, knowing you will never again prepare and eat a meal together, spend weekends working around the house, sit on the front porch on a balmy summer evening, hold each other in bed, go for a run Sunday mornings, watch TV in front of the fireplace on a winter's night, decorate the house at Christmastime, share a good laugh, walk the winding streets of Paris, dream about the future? How do you do that?

Where do you find what it takes to do that?  


  1. You do it by knowing that what you have now is the one true thing that is worth living for. That every moment is a gift and that no one is guaranteed a tomorrow.

    I really enjoyed reading this, because I see myself in it.

  2. You know, Bill, I've thought about what you said, and I agree.

    At the same time, at least for me, I think the trick is not to dread something unfortunate happening to the ones we love, because that's living in the future and not getting the most out of the here and now. If something unfortunate did happen, we'd kick ourselves for not being in the present and getting everything out of the wonderful moments we did have together. Boy, do I need this lesson.

    Thanks for getting me thinking about this, thanks for your kind words, and welcome as a Member. I sincerely hope you find other pieces here that you see yourself in. That's one of the biggest reasons why I write this blog.

  3. My mother died in 1977, a month after I turned 18. When she died a piece of me died with her and because I was young and inexperienced with loss and grief I grieved for years. Eventually that piece of me that died was replaced with memories of my own life, my husband, my children, my friends, relatives, my life experiences. Now, some 35 years later her loss doesn't pain me; it was only a moment in time.

    How will I face the loss of my husband? I don't even think about it. Each day in 25 years has brought us challenges, pain, struggle, good times, laughter and love. Life has not been easy for either of us. Love has, sometimes been the only thing that has held us together. It has been enough. I know I will grieve my loss when his time comes but I will also cherish the memories of the hard times, the good times, all the time we shared together. All our experiences have, like the pieces of a puzzle, made our life what it was, what it is, and what it will be.

    My life did not end with the loss of my mother, nor will it end with the loss of my husband. It will define a moment in time in this journey we call life. Until then we share this journey together. And if I must live it alone, the love we shared will be enough to comfort me. Love is always enough.


  4. It comes from the knowledge of a life well spent. No regrets, just knowing that you were able to breathe the air they did, sharing in their joys, sorrows and everything in between.

  5. @Loretta: Everything you wrote here is so personal, so beautiful, and so real. I really appreciate you sharing your experiences with me.

    Basically, you're saying the same thing I did in a previous comment on this post, which is the only way it can be: Don't concern yourself with loss, even of the one you cherish most. Live fully and completely. Take it all in. Be in the moment.

    We don't know the future, so why dread it? Give love everything you have because you will never regret it, not in life or in death.

    I am deeply comforted by your comment. Thank you so much for your generosity. I sincerely appreciate it.

    @chaoticGRRL: The message remains consistent from one reader to another. I've received the best possible answer from everyone.

    Thank you so much for responding to this post, Heather. I see the truth in what you've written, and it helps. Believe me, it truly helps a lot.