Monday, February 15, 2010

Letting Go

Let them go away (el novio ingles de chu)
Originally uploaded by

Last night I had a conversation with my husband, Michael. I was talking to him about loss, and about all the plans we made when we first met. We were like any other young couple, young in the way that this was a new relationship, not necessarily in age. We had many hopes and dreams. We both talked about our idea of the ideal relationship. We each shared our ideas of what the rest of our life would look like. We then started talking about which of our individual thoughts shared commonalities, and which we would need to compromise.

Any new relationship is full of compromise. This seems even more so when you meet later in life, as there are more aspects of your life that have been set in place for awhile. For me, that aspect that was set in place was the fact that I had three children, and I was a home owner. With this, Michael was the one who had to initially compromise, by making the decision to join my household. There were many other areas that we both made decisions of compromise about, but they were happy compromises, as they meant we were merging our lives.

Part of the merging of lives within a new relationship entails future plans together. Ours was pretty specifically laid out, as we wanted to move ahead sooner, rather than later. We planned to sell my house after the first year, so that we could move away from the city, and have more space, a yard for gardening, and a place to retire to.

Now by the fact that you, the reader, are here, you are aware that my husband died. Michael was diagnosed with a brain tumor after we had been together only 1 1/2 years. He had surgery within days of his diagnosis, and his prognosis was fatal. The doctors gave him anywhere from 6 to 12 months to live. We were told that only 5 % of people with his type of tumor survive beyond the first year. With this news our need to compromise began again. This time the compromise came in the form of letting go. We had to look at our life together, and re-examine our plans for the future.

The letting go began very soon after his diagnosis, and continued throughout the time he survived. Michael died just a month short of two years post surgery. During that period of time, we decided that making any big moves or changes would not work for us. When we said us, we really meant me. We never allowed our self to pretend that he would be here for the long haul. We always spoke about the ability to increase his time, and how that could potentially give him an extended life measured in quality. Quantity was not part of our vocabulary.

I remember during the first 6 months of his living with the brain tumor, we would spend quality time talking about our love for each other, and how we could make the most of what we had. I always made sure he knew that how ever long we had, I would be there for him. I wanted him to be reassured that I could handle anything that came our way. I wanted him to sleep every night knowing that he would never have to face anything alone. Once he was asleep, I would quietly step outside our bedroom, and go sit in our window seat, where I would cry under the watchful eye of the moon. I was grieving. I was acknowledging all that I needed to let go of. I was allowing myself to feel each step, each awareness of letting go. Once I was all cried out, I would slip back into bed, put my arms around him, and go to sleep.

We did many wonderful things during the two years that Michael was sick. We travelled quite a bit, and most importantly, we were married. I saw the window of opportunity as a blessing from God. Here we were, a fairly new gay couple, both kind old fashion in our approach to our relationship, and dealing with a life and death situation. I remember the day that the California Supreme Court approved marriage for Lesbians and Gays. Michael and I stood in the living room with our daughter, amazed at what we were hearing on the news. We would have the privilege of sealing our relationship in front of our family and friends. Something we had long ago let go of, was suddenly placed lovingly before us.

Once we got over the excitement of marriage, we began the next phase of letting go. Michael worried about what he was doing to me by getting married, then dying. He worried that making me a widower would only compound the pain in the future. He was right to worry about this, but I couldn't cut off this new dream because of my future impending pain. I loved Michael, and wanted to be his husband. Our family and friends marvelled at our decision to go forward with this.

On October 19, 2008, Michael and I stood before our loved ones, proclaimed our love and commitment, and became one. In addressing our guests, I acknowledged the reality, as is my way. I said that yes, we had the audacity to stand up to this harsh reality that had become our life, and continued forward with our plan. Our plan was to love each other. Our plan was to commit to each other. Our plan was to take each day as a gift, and let go of those things we had no control of.

After Michael died, September 13, 2009, I learned that I had more letting go to do. My initial few months were spent in the darkest of places, and it was a time that I wanted to let go of everything in my life. I was in such overwhelming pain, and life just didn't seem worth it. I learned to hate the phrase that "time heals," but I have learned that it is true. Time heals, because you become familiar with the pain of loss. It doesn't go away, you just begin to see it as a life companion.

I have now lived for 5 months as a widower. In these 5 months I have been learning once again about letting go. I have needed to let go of how I saw myself. I am now a changed person. I have needed to let go of what grounds me, what feeds me and what brings me joy. All of these aspects of my life have changed. There are in fact many aspects of my life that are different. It is a hard lesson to learn when you lose someone so central to your life. There is that part of you that refuses to accept the reality. You cling to what you had with all your might. Yet, in time you begin to see that this is getting you no where. I can cling to Michael all I want, but that doesn't change the fact that he is gone. I can refuse to like what life has given me, but that will not change what I wake up to tomorrow.

Not so long ago Michael's mother and I began the process of sorting through Michael's things. In my grieving, I have had to sort out that which feeds me, and that which hold me back. I have to decide what I am ready to let go of, and what I plan to always keep. This is not a simple process. There is no set time table that all the widowed can follow. We each deal with our loss individually. For myself, I need to begin the next phase of letting go. I need to acknowledge that which is difficult to let go of, and that which I am ready for. I need to push myself, but gently. I don't want to get stuck, but I don't want to move too fast.

Sometimes I feel that others around me are surprised at how life changing this has been for me. Sometimes I feel that they would be more comfortable knowing that I was moving forward with my life. I am keenly aware that I am likely projecting some of my own fears and worries to those around me. What I can say to them, or myself, is that change is happening. Sometimes the changes are very subtle, and sometimes they are announced right here in this blog. Some days I may appear to be doing well, but am secretly drowning in my grief. There are times when I feel the need to present better than I am. Sometimes, I have no control over how I present to others.

In my talk with Michael this weekend, I was asking him if he is still aware of me. I was asking if he could see my pain. I needed to know if I was truly alone, or just alone in the physical sense. I would love to report that he spoke to me, but if that is possible, it is not really an experience I am open to. I know what is best for me. I need to feel this pain, and I need to express it. I don't allow myself to mask what I am feeling, as it wouldn't serve me in the end. I have to feel what it is that I am letting go of. I have to constantly be searching within so as to understand what it is that I am grieving in that moment. This past weekend I was not so much grieving that I was alone without Michael on Valentine's Day, more that I was having to once again feel the letting go of a future I previously had a good grasp on.

Letting go is never easy. Letting go was easier when I was experiencing it with Michael. Now is my time to continue letting go on my own.


  1. I really liked all that you had to say Daddy. I worry about you so much with all the time you spend alone in your and Daddy Mikes room. Its always comforting to me that I can read how your feeling as sometimes your not always in the space to talk about it out loud. I want to tell you that letting go of Mike is hard for me too. Sometimes I feel as if I let go of him too soon, like I'm not as sad as I should be. But then I think about how much he gave me, and I realize I can never really let him go because of Love. All the Love he gave you, and all the Love you gave him. I know that the loss I feel towards Daddy Mike is not the same as yours, but its there. I know we as a family will be ok. And I know that you will be okay one day but I think you are very right about needing to feel sad and feel this pain. But know I love you and will be here to lean on if you need it. Keep writing Daddy. Goodnight!

  2. Thank you my daughter. I really needed to feel heard tonight, and you were the one to do that for me. Right now it is easier to express myself in written word more than verbally. I will try to share more with you. I just need a lot of quiet time to know what it is I'm feeling these days. You are always welcome to join me

    I love you.


  3. I very much identified with much of this post - especially what you wrote about the time after Michael's diagnosis. Don and I tried to use that time as best that we could, but it was also a time of "letting go" for both of us. As you have stated, a form of grieving starts soon after a terminal diagnosis - both people grieving, but for somewhat different reasons. Somewhere in the grieving process, after a partner dies, I think we rationalize that we must go on alone and that can be a difficult point as we have to try to figure out what to do with what remains of our lives. I've been through the first part (grieving over the loss of my husband) and more or less through grieving over the destruction of the future that we always hoped to have. Now I seem to be in the stage where I'm in a quandary over what to do next as so much of my daily life and purpose was wrapped up in my husband's life and well-being (long before the illness). We were very close, so I had to go through quite a period of feeling like only part of a person. I feel like I'm getting past that stage now - it feels a bit like waking up after a very long time of being frozen (not asleep - more like frozen). I've recently decided that I can't remain in a state of limbo for much longer, and have to figure out what to do next, where to go. I'm feeling tired of being stuck at a point which feels both sad and pointless. The problem is that I don't really know what comes next after this - I mean, where do I go, what do I do, how do I go on alone. Recently, I've started taking action - am now looking to buy a spring-through-autumn place in Nova Scotia. *We* had always intended to retire there -- in fact, our plan was to retire there in autumn 2008, but look what happened instead. Anyhow, after a lot of "self-interrogation" it still seems like a good plan. It's well that I did not try to go there last year as I now realize that, subconsciously, I longed to go there as some irrational part of me expected Don to reappear once I got *us* a place (shades of "Field of Dreams" - if you build it, he will come). In retrospect, I guess it was sort of like a "cargo cult" phase that I was going through last summer while trying to sell our farm. I kind of dread to think of how I would have felt if I'd bought a place last year while still subconscioulsy thinking I could recreate the life we had hoped to spend together. Now, I'm pretty sure I'm past that phase and will be doing this to create a realistic future. At least, I hope that's why I'm doing this. But isn't that one of the hardest parts of loss - we discover that we don't really don't have a good map to use as we navigate through such a difficult time?

  4. Btw, re: quiet time. I'm still finding that I need a lot. I don't realize it until someone comes to visit. For a day or so, I can put up a good front, but soon I'm needing to seek refuge in my room or outside somewhere, being alone with my thoughts. I thought it was just the hermit in me, but the need for so much "alone time" seems to be an important part of grieving.