Long-term relationships change us in ways we don’t understand, or can’t understand—that is until one fateful day when it comes crashing to an end.
Fifty years of loving the same person creates a bond that is inseparable, even when the physical life is gone. At some point, Linda and I became “us.” Nothing important happened that didn’t revolve around “us.” I’m not sure when that transformation happened, but over the years, we began to verbalize it more as our life became one. We knew, no matter what, we would always be together and nothing could tear “us” apart.
Much of my memoir is about the dynamics of our relationship that began when we were teenagers. Our parents thought we were foolish children and did their best to isolate “us.” They even moved away from the small community where we both grew up. Her parents bought a house in Utica, Michigan and mine moved to Waterford, Michigan. That separated “us” for about a year. Our age (fifteen and
sixteen), and financial dependence, left us powerless and easily controlled. That changed when I turned sixteen. I got a job and bought a car. It’s been nearly fifty years since fate and love brought us together. Now, after living a fairy tale life, I’m alone—my love taken from me in the worst of ways—me, standing by helplessly as the one I love slowly dies. The inevitable outcome lingered hauntingly while I watched her endure pain and suffering, and life leaving her body. Her love held “us” strong, yet her will to live washed away like a receding tide. I have never felt so powerless and for the first time in our life, I had no solution. There would no longer be “us.” It was a shot to the heart, and has left me lonely, and afraid, for the first time in my life. Possessions have become meaningless and tease me in a callous and cold way. Grass grows around our RV camper and I can neither sell it nor use it.
I still have memories of a great life with a wonderful woman. We raised three boys and grew long-lasting friendships. We were truly blessed. However, with loss comes change, and the glue that held our family together has dissolved and I am finding it difficult to share my life. Some friends are also dropping away. They, too, are uncomfortable with “me.” What I’m experiencing reminds me of the song by Ricky Nelson, “Garden Party.” “When I got to the garden party they all knew my name, but no one recognized me, I didn’t look the same.” I hope my friends and family will click on Garden Party and listen to the words.
Linda was the only person that knew my heart. She was my soul mate. Every day we kissed, every day we said, “I love you,” and every day we looked forward to being together. She loved me unconditionally. My sister, Cathy, my brother Jeff, love me unconditionally, but they cannot fill the void of a lover’s heart. Others, who love me, are blinded by emotion and are unable to get beyond their pain. One of my five granddaughters no longer speaks to me and I have no idea why. It’s just another shot to my heart.
Linda was the buffer in my life. I gave her my all and she was all of me—my purpose, my reason and all my trust. Now, that “us” has become me, I’m not doing as well. It’s not easy for family to accept me; they can only hold a vision of “mom and dad,” or “Steve and Linda.” They believe I’m making wrong choices. Perhaps they are right. What they are unable to see, is me drifting in a bottomless sea without a life jacket and unprepared for the journey. My body is weary from struggle, exhausted by too little sleep, and hollow from self-medicating and prescription drugs. And I can no longer thoughtfully direct my life, or whom I will be with. I wanted to be rescued. Then someone reached in, grabbed my hand and held it. I didn’t want them to let go. There was no process of logic or outcome—no thinking about tomorrow. The heart cannot think in those terms or with judgment—it only feels and finds comfort. This has created conflict with my family and friends, and the unspoken tension has caused me to collapse further. They are saying, “You’ve pushed us away.” Given the circumstance, their perspective is honest, but not my reality.
Now, all that remain are my memories and emotions. One of the reasons I write is to recapture those memories, especially the ones that only Linda and I share. If I don’t tell the world of our great love, it will be lost forever.
Another reason I write is to communicate openly and unabridged. The beauty of the written word is the free flow of thoughts and ideas without redirection or interruption often found in dialogue. There is no requirement to modify a sentence, phrase, or word, to meet the needs of a specific person and their emotional state. To me, this is the purest form of communication. I hope my words are not taken personally, but that has not been the case, which brings me to my point. We cannot know how others may react to our words or how they will interpret them. In real-time conversations, when we sense a negative reaction, we adjust to not offend. Linda often said I lacked this skill. She would tell me, “It’s not the message, Steve, it’s the delivery.” Her words, compared to mine, were always watered-down pea soup, but perfectly expressed in her own way, and mine were raw and uncensored—delivered with hoofs and horns still attached. Because of this, I received many gentle leg kicks from under the table. I miss that so much. I don’t have my extra filter anymore, and I’m beginning to realize that what I say may hurt others without my knowledge. I’ve trusted friends and family to have compassionate understanding, but they don’t and probably can’t. Their pain is closing them off and they have lost empathy for what I’m going through. I feel it, and it’s causing me to shut down and guard what I say, and to whom I say it. Or just avoid as best I can. Also, I’m sensing a lot of gossip and side talk about me, and then of course there is direct lash-out of anger from some who say they love me. That’s been another shot to the heart. When I say something that others take offense to, it spreads like a Chicago fire. Yet, in every other instance I am ignored.
I’ve shared a great deal on this blog and other places, but for the most part, my family remains quiet and uninvolved in what I’m writing. Maybe they expect me to be more open with them during my grieving, but some things you can’t blurt out during a conversation or maybe I don’t want them to know how much I suffer. Besides, depression shuts down any desire to talk, especially if you know the reaction will be negative or critical. It took me many months to seek counseling. Even when I’m not depressed, I don’t answer the phone anymore without monitoring calls. So, today my gut still grinds and my head still swirls, because the only person I want to call me is forever gone.
My grandmother wrote this poem when the love of her life passed. How long do I cry? It’s a good summation for broken hearts everywhere.