Grieving Love with Intention

I took this picture the night before Mike’s 34th birthday. He fell asleep holding my hand.

It’s two months today that Mike has been gone. Dead. Insert euphemism of choice here. Sometimes it feels like it’s been forever. And sometimes a card comes in the mail from somebody I don’t know and I pull my phone out to text him and ask who that person is, even though I just read their condolences.

“Mike, who’s this person who’s sorry you’re dead? Should I send them a thank you note?”

His life insurance company just approved the claim on his policy. It took them two months but now they accept he’s dead. That hurts. It makes him feel farther away. It’s not a lot of money, as you can imagine insuring a person with glioblastoma isn’t the easiest thing in the world. But it’s a help. It’s going to cover all Mike’s wishes for me and the kids to scatter his ashes. It will give our family some comfort.

I don’t normally wish for things. In my experience, wishes are just twisted curses. Maybe I’ve read too much sci-fi to believe that changing things *in just this one way* wouldn’t have catastrophic side effects. Maybe I spent too many years finding the positives in a shit situation. Maybe I was too good at being grateful for the positives in a shit situation. Maybe it’s good that I think wishing is a foolish game for foolish people who are setting themselves up for heartbreak.

I wished to meet somebody who made me feel whole and made me better without ever trying because he made me want to make myself better. I did. And I became the person I am because I had to spend fourteen living a dream life with a dream person knowing that there would be a hard, horrible end. I stopped wishing. I am so grateful for having that wish granted. I would never wish it upon another soul.

The way things are is how they are. If you want them to be different you have to make them different yourself. I never wish that Mike didn’t get brain cancer. Without cancer, our kids wouldn’t exist. Who knows if we could have been so happy if we didn’t always have the perspective of knowing our time was limited? Who knows if his Christian family would have so readily accepted a Jewish daughter-in-law? Who knows if I wouldn’t have gotten bored or restless and tanked our marriage the way I tanked so many other things in my life before Mike was my life? Who knows if our parents would have become friends? Who knows if we would have looked at each other every day as though we couldn’t believe we had another day?

I have a few painful memories of Mike’s last months that hurt when they pop up. The worst was the time I said, “I love you, too.” Mike and I never said those words. Never. I noticed this once, a year or so into our marriage. One of us would say, “I love you,” and the other would say, “I love you.” Never, “too.” Never conditional. Never an appendix to the other’s love. Always its own unique statement. We spoke of it once, but I don’t remember the details. Only that both of us agreed that it felt important to FEEL it whenever we said it, and when you take the time to really, truly feel it each time you say it, you can’t subjugate it.

I say, “I love you, too,” to many people I love. My parents. My sister. My kids. My friends. I know that word doesn’t reduce the amount of love. But the intention is different. Mike and I loved each other with intention. Always.

Until about two months before he died. He said, “I love you,” as I dropped him off at rehab. “I love you, too,” I said, without thinking. I stopped in my tracks. I knew then that I was starting to make my peace with his death in a concrete way. Parts of him were too far from me. I took a breath, walked back into the rehab, and wrapped my arms around his shoulders.

“I love you, Mike,” I said. Intention. “I’ll be right here to get you in three hours.” An act of service. “You’re amazing.” Words of affirmation. “I love you.”

I don’t know that he noticed the “too,” but it broke my heart.

Enough time has passed now that people are talking to me more about Mike. I feel like right at the beginning, they were afraid to take the wind from my sails, so to speak, to center their grief. I am grateful for that. I am also grateful to hear of their grief now. To hear how much Mike meant to them. How much they miss him. I have feelings again, often, and it feels good to share them.

When pressed, I would wish for nothing. I know too much about glioblastoma, about fate, about silver linings and positivity and the alternatives. I know too much about death.

I hope that when I die, the last thing I see is Mike’s face as it was when he died. Peaceful, ready, my hand resting on his jaw. I could have died in that moment and it would have felt right, because he knew it was right. But I didn’t die. I will someday, and that’s okay. I know that’s okay, and correct, and inevitable, because Mike taught me that every day of his illness, all 4,928 days of his illness. Death is the cost of living, and life is worth it.

But I would wish for one more hug. He knew the cardinal rule of giving hugs. You don’t let go first. You hold onto the hug-ee until they’re ready to be released.

I don’t know that I’d ever let go on my own, but I know he would tell me it’s ok to let go, and kiss me on the head, and say, “I love you, Panda Bear.”

I would say, “I love you, Gorilla Bear,” but I wouldn’t let go. Not yet.

I would wait until he said it again, “I love you, Lea.” Because he knew that there was no pet name, no nickname, no “babe” or “honey” or “sexypants” that could mean as much to me as hearing my name, my own person identified, with the intention and determination and softness of his love.

And I would say, “I love you,” and not call him by name, because my love for him transcends who he is, who he was, the boundaries of his personality and his flesh. I would say it with emphasis on every word, but especially on that “you,” on forcing as much of my affection, as much of my quintessence, as much of every speck of my soul into that nebulous fact of him as I could.

And I would wish I didn’t have to know I could let go.

You can read more about grief here: “But also,” an annual exploration of September Grief

Read my most recent post here: Gifts From My Husband

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