Something I say to my grief-therapist often lately, is that I feel like I’m generally doing “okay”, as long as I don’t think about the future, or let my mind wander there. I feel okay or sometimes even good, as long as I can stay in the present. Do you know what she said back to me? She said: “So stay in the present.” Oh, okay then. Guess I’m done with therapy now. ALL BETTER! ALL FIXED! Thank you for that brilliant advice! You mean I just need to stay in the present and everything will be fine forever? Cool! Awesome! Sometimes my grief-therapist has a hilarious sense of humor. I think me laughing in her face when she said “stay in the present” maybe surprised her a little bit, but its just not that simple. If only my brain didn’t find itself in situations that catapult me directly into “the future that never was.” It happens all the time, and I don’t feel as if I can control my reaction to it. My reaction is extremely emotional, for example, whenever I see elderly couples together, living their ordinary days together that I will never have, as happened yesterday.
I was sitting in my car at Trader Joe’s parking lot, (well, technically, it’s my roommates car that she so nicely lets me drive to work, but whatever) I had the window open and was getting my things together, when I witnessed a scene right next to me. An elderly couple who is parked near me, going about their routine with one another. They had just returned to their car from the store, and he seemed more stable physically than her, so he walked with his arm clasped in hers to the car.
They moved slow, but they didn’t seem bothered by it or each other. He opened her passenger door and guided her into the car with love and ease. There was a small pillow sitting inside the car, and he grabbed it and gently tucked it behind her head. “Did you get my tea?”, she asked him. “Dear, I’ve ordered your tea for 58 years. Of course I’m getting your tea. Be right back. ” He rolled her window down for some air, handed her a book, and then ran into the Starbucks nearby. She sat there reading her book, and she looked so at peace. Sure, she was very old and had brittle bones and trouble walking and who knows what else, but she was not alone. She had someone to help her with those things, and there is a huge sense of peace about that, even when you aren’t fully aware of it. She had her teammate in life, and he was going to get her tea.
He returned a few minutes later and presented her with the tea: “Two sugars, and I even stirred them in for you, mi’lady”, he said with a laugh. “Thank you my darling”, she replied, and she was laughing too. He reached into the console and pulled out some medication, then handed her the pills one by one so she could take them. You could tell that this pill thing was a routine for them, something they did probably every day, without even thinking much about it, sort of like breathing in and out.
Right before they drove away, he reached over and helped her with her seat belt. He looked like he was honored to do this, and she looked like she was thankful for it. And in that moment, both gradually and suddenly, I saw my husband Don. that man in the car became Don, and I became the woman. That is how he would be, exactly like that man, if he had lived long enough to be old with me. I will never get to see him as an old man, but I know in my soul that he would have delighted in caring for me – that he would have thought of it as an honor. This I know for sure, and I never question it. And my heart broke into a billion little pieces as they drove away.
So their car slowly pulled out of that parking lot, and instantly, I started sobbing – for the future I’ll never have. For the decades of marriage ill never know. For all the many times Don joked with me about us getting old together, moving to Florida like everybody else, and making sure we didnt miss the Early Bird special at 4pm. I sobbed because making my own tea now at age 43 is merely an annoying inconvenience. But in my 80’s? Not having Don around to help me through all the things big and small as I grow old, is simply too overwhelming to think about. So I don’t. Most days. Most days I try like hell not to go there, not to think about it, to stay in the present like my therapist suggested. It just doesnt always work.
There is a very good chance that I may be alone forever now, that I will never be re-partnered with someone again, which terrifies me. Or, I may meet my next great love one day, and maybe he will be the type of person who will hold doors open for me and go get my tea because he loves me. I hope so.
But it won’t be with Don. I won’t get to witness Don as my aging and sweet husband. I won’t ever know what it’s like to have that kind of familiarity and security and bond that 50 plus years of marriage brings. Or 40 years of marriage. Or 20. Or even 10. I will never have these things with Don, the person I pictured having all these things with. And even though my life can and will be good and beautiful and joyful, these kinds of losses will always make me sad. It will probably always hurt that we didnt even make the 5 year mark, never mind multiple decades together. It will probably always be hard and painful to see older couples together, couples that got so much more time than we got. It might always be a grief-trigger for me, and it might always be heart-wrenching. I can’t help it. Old people just hurt my heart.
Tomorrow is my birthday. I will be 44 years old, and even though I am looking forward to celebrating my birthday this year, there will always be that sting where my husband is missing. Every year that I get older, is another year I will be living on earth without him. Aging scares the crap out of me. Aging alone absolutely terrifies me. When I married Don, I had that feeling of peace about my future, our future. I knew that whatever I had to face, that he would be right there next to me, my partner and teammate in life. I knew that if he was walking me through it, we would be okay.
These days, I just try like hell not to go there in my mind, because the mere thought of it brings me right back to panic.