Thursday, March 31, 2011

If Only . . . (09/06/2010)

Oh, this really is the stupidest thing. My heart squeezing this way. My tears erupting like this.

Every time I hear this song. "You Were Always on My Mind". Every time. It is so foolish. Because what it makes me think of has never happened. Except in my imagination.

How many years is it now? Twenty-six since our divorce. Two since his passing.

When I hear this song, my heart imagines Richard hearing this song:

And I imagine that when he HEARD this song, he thought of me. That in his heart he has been saying this to me all these long, long years since we no longer have been "we".

I really ought to stop listening to "Easy Listening".
* * * * *
JE 09/30/2008 – A Family Tragedy

Like any tragedy engulfing a family, we are not prepared.

I say we, even though I have been divorced from this man for twenty-five years. But I am suffering along with the offspring of the 22-year marriage that preceded the divorce; that offspring being four grown children, each now with families of their own. Two sons, two daughters. A perfect family. Well, not exactly.

"This man," my former husband, now married nineteen years to another, is dying of cancer. Stage 4, tongue, throat, lungs. Diagnosed four weeks ago. FOUR WEEKS!

When he fell unconscious from his bed the first week after the diagnosis, three of the four siblings rushed madly to Michigan. (We all now live in Tennessee; two of the four having moved here from Michigan just within the past year). Their dad’s wife had called 911 and he was in the hospital when the kids got there.

He was "stable" by the time they arrived but in and out, mostly in, a state of confusion. The siblings, no longer children but strong, responsible adults (like their dad?) with families of their own, questioned and argued with the several physicians and finally determined he was being given too much medication. Once they lowered the dose, his senses returned to him. Each sibling took turns staying the night during the week he was in the hospital and on the last night he was there, my oldest son asked him, "Dad, do you know where you are?"

"Yes," he replied, "in jail."

His sense of humor had returned. That sense of humor, almost always laced with sarcasm, is partly why our marriage ended anyway. It’s hard to so often be the brunt of someone’s sarcastic humor.

Hard on me. Hard on the kids. Certainly not a tool for raising confident, well-adjusted children. Back then, of course, we were unable and unequipped to deal with or understand the "whys" of it. We all just suffered, each in our own way, with the consequences.

We had moved our family to Tennessee in 1980 to start a business on our own and hoping for a new beginning, but when, in 1982, my husband told me he was moving back to Michigan – alone – I was not surprised. Even though he was the one to leave, we both knew we had reached the end of our endurance.

Through the ensuing years, each child, in his or her own way, managed to make peace with their hurt and anger, and for the past few years, all four have managed to maintain a reasonably close relationship with their dad. The oldest (boy) and youngest (girl) had the hardest time, I think. If you believe the experts who describe family hierarchy, I guess it was partly due to their "position" in the family.

Who knows. What does it matter now, anyway. This is a good man, warts and all, who took care of his family the best he knew how and certainly loved his kids. It’s what I’ve told them always. Hopefully, it helped them come to terms with their issues and helped them restore/maintain their relationships with their father. Eventually, I think they all came to understand he was hard on them more because of his own insecurities and shortcomings than theirs.

By then, of course, we were divorced. His second marriage is now in its nineteenth year. I hooked up with someone else for 14 years (8 of those married) and am single again; the kids grew up, married, had their own children. Now they are all approaching middle age and I am seventy and their dad is seventy-three.

As I said, our oldest son, our second son and his wife, and our youngest daughter all raced to Michigan a month ago. A week after we learned the diagnosis. The boys stayed a week that time and my daughter stayed two weeks. Then my oldest daughter and her children stayed a week and then returned to Tennessee. She knew it likely was her children’s last visit with their grandpa.

On the following Sunday morning, his wife called again. The news was not good. The boys raced back to Michigan. Once again, they checked the medicine. Again, he was being overdosed on morphine. Something about the difference between mili-liters and milli-grams. As a result, he was getting 5 times more than the prescribed dosage. Again, they lowered/corrected it. This time, however, he remains less and less alert and cannot navigate except in his wheelchair.

Our youngest daughter drove up again last Wednesday. Her 20-year-old daughter flew up on Thursday; I drove her to the airport. They drove back to Tennessee last Saturday night.

This time the visits all had a different purpose; it was heart-wrenching for each of them when they left.

Now we wait.

I have cried at least once every day since we learned the news. I thought I had made peace with myself and Richard long ago. We did the best we could. I wish we could have figured out how to stay together. But we couldn’t. It is the one big regret of my life; the one thing I would change if I could. But I can’t.

I have stayed at his home several times through the years with the kids for special occasions. We get along. Mostly. But still, there is that biting wit of his. Which he always manages to find a way to use. And still, it hurts. But except for those few occasions when family visits or holidays bring us together, I don’t have to deal with it and so I live my life in peace and harbor no animosity.

Every day since we learned the diagnosis, I have prayed God will comfort him and fill him with the knowledge of forgiveness. For I have come to believe the reason husband and father was so hard on all of us was because he could not forgive himself. For what, I’m not exactly sure except I now know things about his childhood and his relationship with his mother that could explain it. So I have come to believe I understand. It doesn’t matter now anyway.

Paul Newman died this past Friday. I cried about that. And wondered why it hurt so much. I had always admired Paul Newman; he was a great actor but I think he was also a good man. Someone who tried to make the world a better place. I never heard otherwise in the news or tabloids, and I believe he and his wife had a good, solid marriage. At least it seemed so to me, a casual observer. So it occurs to me I am identifying with his wife and imagining what it would be like for her to lose such a life partner.

That’s when I realize my hurt goes deeper than what I feel as her loss; I’m crying for mine. Mine and Richard’s. A loss of a different nature. And my heart and mind fill with these words, "I’m sorry. I’m so sorry."

I want this dying man to forgive me. For my failings as his wife. I should have tried harder. Been stronger. Wiser. Somehow.

I believe everything happens for a reason. We just don’t always know the reason at the time. Sometimes we figure it out later. Sometimes we never do. But there is a reason. For everything. Like Andy Andrews says, "Every . . . Thing . . . Matters".1

So I cry and try to understand and sort through these emotions. If every thing matters, then it mattered, there was a reason, that Richard and I fell in love and got married and had these four wonderful children.

I cry because I was unable to deal with his insecurities. Because I wasn’t good enough or strong enough. Because I couldn’t fix it.

I was given life. A life of possibilities. And challenges. Like everybody else. A life full of challenges and opportunities for me to grow, to become a better person.

If only I had set a better example . . .

If only I had been stronger emotionally . . .

If only I had been wiser . . .

I was supposed to help this man overcome his demons. So he could learn to forgive himself. And us.

* * * * *
"Maybe I didn't love you
Quite as often as I could have
Maybe I didn't treat you
Quite as good as I should have

If I made you feel second best
Girl I'm sorry I was blind
You were always on my mind
You were always on my mind"

If only . . .
Richard died on October 6th, my dad’s birthday, and I drove with my youngest daughter from Tennessee to Michigan to attend the funeral.
1 Book and NPT Special, "The Seven Decisions," Andy Andrews,