The 1996 photo was taken during our wedding vows. The 2007 photo was taken dancing at my son’s wedding. We looked at each other with as much, if not more love, than on our wedding day. Michael was not a dancer. I was, during the parents’ dance, more or less dragging him around the dance floor and the smirks were our private jokes about that.
But, the years between those two photos had pounded us with many adversities but we stood together through thick and thin. I went back to New York after 2 years in Texas and left Michael there to sell the house. I had no idea the house would take 2 years to sell. We spent a lot of money, not only on my Manhattan apartment and the Texas house, but flying back and forth at least once a month. We spoke every day. It was a difficult separation but we trusted each other completely and never argued about anything in those years.
One night I rented a car to go upstate to babysit for my baby grandson. I turned on the radio and Michael Buble’s “Home” was playing. I had never heard the song before and I broke down in sobs. I pulled over on 78th street and Broadway (not an easy place to pull over) and called Michael. “I don’t care if we get a penny for the house, sell it and come to New York.”
In Getting Back Out There, I talk about wanting the partner who will be there when the roof is leaking in the thunderstorm, the dog needs to go out but he’s afraid of the thunder, the baby is crying and the lights are going on and off. You want the partner who will say “I’ll put something under the leak and get the dog out while you take care of the baby…” NOT the partner who is going to flee or fight because this is WAY TOO MUCH and it must be, for some reason, your fault.
Michael was that partner to me and me to him. It was always about you handle the roof and the dog and I’ll get the baby and find the candles. Team work made the dream work. We had multiple challenges over the years and yet I could have counted, on one hand, the serious arguments we had.
Exactly one year and one day after my son’s wedding…when the second picture was taken…Michael had the seizure that began his last 11 months of life on Earth.
Had someone tapped me on the shoulder during that dance and said, “You should enjoy this time with him because he’s going to leave you very soon.” I would have called that person the biggest liar ever. I would have said, “Look at this man, look at how he looks at me…NOTHING will tear us apart!” In all the years we were together I never once doubted he would always be there. I had been fearful and insecure in other relationships and flashes of my boyfriend leaving, but not once, not ever, did I think Michael would leave me.
I had the kind of security that many people who are out of relationships wish for. “I am afraid of being hurt.” “I’m afraid I’ll never trust anyone again.”
Michael never hurt me. He was supremely trustworthy. Yet he left me. It was not his will to leave me. He would have never packed a bag and walked out the door. Michael passed at noon and the hospice nurse opened my front door. I turned and said, “What are you doing?” as I had the central air on. She said, “Letting his spirit go…” I ran over and slammed the door. “No! His spirit stays with me!” It was a ludicrous moment in my life but pretty apropos at the time.
The one person I could rely on to never hurt me was gone and my heart was shattered.
Whenever someone tells me they don’t know if they can ever trust someone not to leave them, I want to remind them that it’s an impossible thing to predict. Yes, we want to avoid anyone who has cheated in the past and/or have commitment issues. We want to fix our broken choosers to pick the best person we can find. We want to NOT be in bad relationships. There are ways of healing our pain and choosing wisely next time. There are ways to ensure that our next relationship will be happier and healthier than the last.
What there is no way to predict is that someone won’t leave us. I don’t normally tell my readers, students and clients the many ways you can lose someone separate and apart from their partner’s own volition. Sometimes I mention the cartoon “falling anvil” as a catch-all to remind people that there are no guarantees in life. Your partner could be hit by a falling anvil. Lights out. That’s all she wrote.
People often tell me that most people don’t experience the kind of love and the fantastic relationship I had with Michael and I should be grateful. Those are people I usually want to hit. Yet, if someone told me on our wedding day what the future held – from Michael’s illness to his passing – I can’t say I wouldn’t sign up for it. I simply don’t know.
When we got married, we were sitting in the Oak Bar of the Plaza Hotel and I asked Michael what he wanted if he passed before me, burial or cremation. He refused to answer me. A year later we were sitting at the exact same table for our one-year anniversary and he again refused. Telling me that if didn’t tell me, he’d never die. Those two conversations, which he of course made a joke about, are the only two times in all those years I thought of him dying. (if you don’t count his crazy driving along the Amalfi Coast in Italy when I was sure that both of us were going to plunge into the Mediterranean.)
We had plans for retirement and were only a few years from it. We were going to buy new Harleys, renew our vows, go back to Italy for a second honeymoon, take the Orient Express, then spend a year riding across the country on our motorcycles. We talked about it all the time. We were making lists of different places we wanted to visit across the US and researching the weather and plotting out a good time of year for each destination. We deserved that retirement. We had worked hard for it and DAMMIT we deserved it. He definitely deserved it.
But we would never live that dream. We had met and survived so many challenges in our time together, but we couldn’t overcome brain cancer.
Had someone told him in either of those photos that he would leave me and I would be shattered, I know he would have laughed. He never ever tried to answer the ridiculous.
The only thing that kept me from jumping off a bridge in the days after he passed was that I had survived aloneness before. I had a full and happy life before I met him. I had to call on every ounce of relationship recovery I had ever had to believe that I would be okay. I knew how to do alone. I knew how to rely on me and only me.
In the end the only one you can trust is yourself. And the only way to trust yourself is to build a good and healthy foundation for your life without needing anyone else in it. It’s a tough row to hoe, but it’s possible.
Many nights I would be felled with grief. Walk a few steps, think I heard him call me, realize he wasn’t there and physically crumble to the ground. Once down there I would beat my fists into the floor. It was in these dark days and nights I had to call on my past performance of being the sole navigator of my life, of knowing I could do it.
There are no guarantees that you won’t be hurt again. There are no guarantees that the most loving partner in the world won’t be hit with a falling anvil. The very best you can do is love yourself and build a life worth something.
I hear, “I don’t know if I can ever trust someone again” all the time. The bottom line is that you can only trust yourself to be okay NO MATTER WHAT. The way to have that level of self-confidence is to heal your grief from your breakup, live your life, do your self-care and your inventories. Do the Standards and Compatibility Inventory and commit to walk if someone does something that is unacceptable and hold out for the best partner and hope for a long and happy partnership. And if it is cut short because life is like that, you still have you.
Be good to you. Build a life worth living and one that reflects courage to be alone and the ability to trust YOU to be okay, no matter what.