I understand that in the heat of battle, a soldier will often not experience the pain of a sudden dismemberment until some hours after the loss.
That must be what I am going through now, and what is probably experienced by many new widows at the sudden loss of a life's partner and lover. I do feel a certain surreal numbness that is allowing me to function as if my heart wasn't broken or my soul shattered.
The pain will surely come, but for now, all I can think of is the love.
We were colleagues when we first met in 1979, working for the same employer. He had been separated from his wife for ten years, had two grown daughters and two grandchildren. I was a single working woman on the front lines of the women's movement, capitalizing on the gains made in the courtrooms and on the street, and becoming the first woman to hold every job I had had in a male dominated industry. He had been retired from the Marine Corps for seven years and went back to work to save his sanity.
Twenty-two years separated us, but the fact that I had been a hippie in the streets of Chicago bothered him no more than his 27 year Marine Corps career bothered me. We were friends. Good friends, who became passionate lovers.
He often spoke of his longing to travel the country that he had spent all of those years serving. He wanted to get a little camper and explore on his own timetable. I tried to talk him out of it. Until he asked me to join him. And then I was faced with a hard choice to make, as I was finally achieving career success and advancement.
When we eloped to Las Vegas with a couple dozen good friends and family members, we did it in a thirty-three foot motor home, complete with ice maker and countertop blender. And we travelled all over this magnificent land for twelve years. We honeymooned in Death Valley and ate fresh lobster on an August afternoon in Maine and watched the New Year's Eve fireworks over the French Quarter in New Orleans. We explored the cannonball National Parks before Ken Burns made them so popular, climbed the Statue of Liberty and hiked Bryce Canyon.
We volunteered for a season at Big Bend National Park in Texas and Mammoth Caves in Kentucky. We came to Joshua Tree National Monument in California in 1989, fell in love with the area and eventually bought our home here where we have lived for the last eighteen years. Happily.
When you live with someone in a 264 square foot shoebox on wheels, you had better be in love. Lust is also helpful. But what we found more important was our respect for each other and our determination to communicate. We were open and honest with each other. We shared our fears and our hopes. There were problems, but we dealt with them, refusing to allow resentments to take root and grow.
His battle with prostate cancer began in 1996; we fought it together and became much closer and stronger for the combat. We became politically active, joined the National Prostate Cancer Coalition and successfully lobbied Congress for an earmark in the DOD Budget for prostate cancer research.
He believed in me. He believed I could do anything in the world. When I was amazed that I easily understood trigonometry, chemistry and physics he simply smiled and asked why I was surprised. When I started to paint he encouraged me to enter a show and competition at the local gallery. He was unsurprised when my work took a ribbon. He loved to read what I wrote. And told me often that I should do more of it and was pleased when I started writing the Monday Murder Mystery series here at Daily Kos.
I have loved and been loved, and shared a happiness that few people ever get to know. We fought hard to live in the present, to cherish the small things that each day brought and to always acknowledge the joy that our life held.
Once you have been loved the way I was loved, you are never the same. Never. Leaning on the support, you begin to walk differently. You start to see the world from a slightly changed angle. You realize that loving is the most natural feeling in life.
One day last week, when he expressed his resentment at his helpless condition, I looked into his eyes and asked if I were the one laying in a hospital bed fighting against such an overwhelming infection as MRSA is, wouldn't he try to feed me? Wouldn't he gently wipe the tears from my eyes?
For over thirty years, we loved each other. When the end finally came Monday night, I was holding his hand and we were listening to his favorite Frank Sinatra channel on Pandora Radio in his room in the Frank Sinatra Tower of the Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs.
And at night, when I close my eyes, in our bed, he visits my dreams.
I don't know who I will be when I finish this part of my life's journey. I only know that for now I am one of the luckiest women in the world, because I loved him very, very much.