Losing My Valentine To Cancer Taught Me Five Lessons About Finding Love

This week’s challenge is to get rid of the “perfect man checklist” so I don’t let a great guy pass me by.  People tell me I’m too old to be this picky.  Some even ask me if I’m afraid to die alone.  I used to laugh because they didn’t understand that just because you’re not married it doesn’t mean you’re alone.  I would always have my big brother to be my +1.

When he got divorced over a decade ago, that started our transition from just siblings into friends.  We were at our uncle’s wedding, both dateless, and we made a pact to take care of each other when we were old and gray.   After a few drinks, we joked about how much fun we would have when we retired.  We’d travel the world.  Play cards all night.  Complain to the bartenders about going easy on the vodka (wait, we already do that). Take advantage of every senior citizen discount.  There were sure to be some great adventures ahead.

Then, when he was diagnosed with cancer 19 months ago, that plan changed.  I couldn’t believe this moment had come so soon.  All of the sudden he looked old and gray.  He was using a cane, and sometimes even a walker.  He couldn’t drink anymore.  This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.

Mike me derby

I moved back home to help take care of him.  Most days consisted of trips to the doctor’s office and/or the hospital, and lots of naps.  But on his good days, there was also a lot of fun.  It wasn’t exactly as we planned, but we adapted.  Everywhere we went, people assumed we were married.  One woman in the ER actually asked, “So you are both single?  How OLD are you guys?”, when we explained that we were brother and sister.

We got the “why aren’t you married” question a lot over the last 10 years, and it seemed to become even more frequent when we spent so much time together this last year.  My brother never went into detail when they asked.  He would usually tell them that he is divorced and that always got him off the hook.

Then, they would turn to me for my explanation, which I had perfected over the years – I’m focusing on my career, blah, blah, blah.  But living with my brother changed me.  My focus was now on my family.  I realized I no longer had an answer for this question.  And when he passed away two weeks ago, I no longer had my single buddy.  I’m still not sure what my new plan is without him, but over the last 19 months he left me with some great life lessons that prepared me to keep moving forward.

Top Five Things My Brother Taught Me About Finding The One:

5) There’s No Such Thing As Perfection: Throughout all of the obstacles he encountered in his life, he never asked “why me?”  Even when he was battling every day to stay alive, he accepted the situation and did everything he could to make it better.  I can’t wait for the perfect guy or perfect timing.  I need to take things as they are to find something that is perfect for me.

4) Learn From the Past, Don’t Dwell On It: Even though his ex-wife treated him poorly, he learned from their time together and moved on. I’ve been fortunate to have dated some pretty amazing guys through the years – my first boyfriend and my last boyfriend, and a few in between have been there for me over the last 19 months.  Sometimes I wondered if I made a mistake moving on from these relationships, but my brother would remind me to look forward, not back.  Because of them, I know what I’m looking for now.

3) You Don’t Have To Be Independent All The Time: We had been on our own for so long that we actually enjoyed it.  We could do what we wanted, whenever we wanted.  I took it as a compliment when people said, “you’re so independent”, but as my brother’s dependence on his family and friends grew over the last few months, so did those relationships.  He even made new friends while he was in the hospital, especially the nurses who would come from different floors to check in on him constantly.  When someone needs you, the dynamic changes.  If I do everything myself, how could I expect someone else to fit in?

2) Stay Positive: My brother didn’t let the doctors’ predictions keep him from fighting 15 months longer than they expected.  Attitude is everything, and that also goes for believing that anything is possible when it comes to finding the right guy.  You can’t control what happens, but you can control how you approach it.

last christmas

1) I’m Ready: After his divorce, he wasn’t interested in getting married again.  He dated women, but settling down was never a priority.  Of course, that didn’t keep him from encouraging me to find someone.  When I posted my first blog here on ChicagoNow in June, he was so excited for me.  He said, “Your blog is going to show people that it’s okay to be single.  And you’re going to learn so much about yourself along the way.  You’ll be married before you’re 40!”

There he goes with that positive attitude again.  I don’t know about making it before 40, but I was off to a good start when a woman at the funeral started talking to me about how she admired me for coming home to be with my brother.  Then she asked the same old questions, “Are you married?  How old are you?”  She followed up with, “My son is a great guy.  You should meet him.”  My brother would’ve laughed that someone was trying to fix me up at his funeral.

I wish he could be here when I do get married.  It will happen one day.  My brother believed it, and he made me believe it too.

Mike Bday

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