I knew there was something wrong before he told me. One can tell these things. I had noticed the weight loss, his ebbing appetite, the nose bleeds and most of all, his refusal to talk about any of it. So when he did finally tell me, I wasn’t shocked. Denial gave way to collapsing in face of sorrow that had been told to wait.
I cried for four hours, maybe five… I am not sure. He cried with me. We held each other and cried the entire night.
The next morning, eyes swollen, we went about our lives.
And then he asked me to leave. He said he wanted to be left alone.
I wanted to give him whatever he asked for, even if it meant I wasn’t going to be a part of it. Isn’t that what love is all about?
So, I let go. I let go of my expectations of him as as a lover. But I didn’t let go of him. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to.
We are all dying, all the time. Some of us faster than others. Some of us know this, some don’t. When you are confronted with the inevitability of the death of someone you love, everything else becomes irrelevant.
Their flaws become meaningless; the fights, the disagreements, the differences… nothing matters.
What matters is their strengths and how they use them to make the best of whatever little is left of their time. What matters is building new memories, unblemished by grudges.
The value of time changes dramatically. An hour feels as valuable as a year, but shorter than a minute. Sometimes, just to sit next to them is all you want. Then there are times when you feel a strong urge to do something exciting and fun;
you want to fill thirty minutes with something you can write a thirty thousand page novel about.
But frankly, even thirty minutes spent holding his hand are worth writing a novel about.
Knowing that you will not grow old with your beloved, that they will breathe their last way before you even enter old age, makes you feel all the pending emotion in a brief moment. The love that is felt in a moment of intimacy becomes that much stronger knowing that there is a number on such moments left. The same goes for anger and hurt.
Everything is felt intensely because you can’t leave it for tomorrow. There might not be a tomorrow.
The more fierce his illness gets, the more fiercely we fight it. Our weapon of choice is humour. We have built memories that will always give me the strength to deal with life’s challenges.
That making jibes at one’s own disability is perhaps one of the best coping mechanisms, is an important lesson I have learnt.
That said, no one who hasn’t stood by him in his darkest moments, when hope seems like a delusion sold to us in the worst conspiracy, has the right to make light of his suffering.
But more importantly, the reality of death teaches you that not much other than living a life of compassion is important. We assign roles to people and when they fail to live up to those roles, we are let down.
We see people as the part they play in the movie of our lives, when we need to see them as the hero of their own stories.
Death teaches you to do just that. It teaches you to let go of that forgotten anniversary, that movie he never saw with you, the family dinner he went to begrudgingly, the other girls he flirted with, the times he stayed out a bit too late with his friends or even that in his loneliest moments, he didn’t want you next to him.
Someone who is terminally ill dies several times. First, when they are told that they have only so much time left to live. Then again when the illness peaks. Then, when they finally surrender to the the passing of time. And so it goes for everyone involved.
Time gives you many chances to feel what it might be like to not have them around. But you can never be ready for the final moment.
No matter how many times you may have let go, each time the stakes higher than before, you will still crash when the moment arrives. I know I will.