In a recent posting, I may have made it sound like Richard was angelic during my illness. He was not. But he was heroic.
We met in 1976 and got married in 1985. Ours was a star-crossed and, at the same, a star-blessed relationship. We loved each other to the core and respected each other’s fundamental nature. We started off with similar politics, sense of humor, and devotion to friends. He liked the doughy part of bread, and I liked the crusts. He ate the meat, and I chewed on the bones. He knew math, and I knew how to read.
For many years, we didn’t really know how to name the harder feelings without blaming the other for causing them. We didn’t know how to sit together and hold hands through the heartaches and the control struggles. I used words to contort emotional pain into something that seemed rational, but was really just an articulate relocation of blame. Richard shrank into confusion, frustration, and eventually silence.
We never gave up. And over the years, we grew each other up. We learned that in a primary relationship, at least in ours, what doesn’t get spoken eventually gets acted out. We learned to speak the unspeakable (more about this in a later post), and that while doing so felt desperate and destructive, it was actually the only path to a true reconciliation.
So, by the time I got sick, we had a solid track record of loving, falling into the pit, and pulling each other up to higher ground. He did all those wonderful, kind things I mentioned in the previous post, and more. He read to me, stoked my hair, kept the pantry stocked with almond butter and rice cakes (one of the few food combinations I could tolerate), and sat vigil while the waves of pain carried me farther away from life.
There were times he couldn’t tolerate my pain and his helplessness – and left. Sometimes he disappeared into the TV or his computer. I remember one evening when he came home from work, he found me collapsed on the kitchen floor, in pain, but mostly heartsick that I would never go to
He was not angelic – but he was heroic. He believed I would get better. He tried and tried and tried to comfort me. He took care of himself. He put my needs first. These simple things…but not so simple. One day, after I began to recover, Richard said with a tone of surprise, “Well now I know how selfless I can be.” He wasn’t being self-congratulatory. As a scientist and engineer, he was stating a fact. He had learned how far he would bend to hold onto me. To go to the outer reaches of love, compassion, limitation, and altruism, and to do so without fanfare and without expecting reward – that is heroic.