Eleven years ago this month, someone I thought of as a close friend lost her husband to death — as opposed to losing him in the freezer aisle at the local Costo — in a fiery car crash on a race track. He died as he had lived, doing what he loved, in command of his own destiny. At the time I was just beginning what would become the long arduous task of being granted a divorce from the man who was perfectly willing to let me go, as long as he kept all our assets out of my way so I wouldn’t trip and fall over them, or even discover that they existed. Always so thoughtful.
After his funeral, my friend — this perfectly educated, perfectly dressed, perfectly coiffed, perfect lady, out of earshot of everyone, whispered to me:
You are choosing to leave Valdemar, it’s not the same or as final as death. Your pain is less, because Valdemar never loved you, so you don’t even know what you’ve never had. Vijay and I had such a close and loving relationship …a marriage of equals, a sex life like you wouldn’t believe, and now he is gone. Leaving me alone.
I just stood there dumbfounded and thunderstruck — can one be both simultaneously? — because how does one reply to a statement like that, standing at the wake repast table with a piece of pound cake on one’s plate, and another tucked inconspicuously into one’s cheek like a chipmunk?Choking and discretely sputtering, I took a slug of lemonade to balance out the sugar in the aforementioned cake, and swallowed my words with it.
Yesterday I spent hours in a misguided attempt to find some information that could easily have been replicated, in a long lost email thread from a now defunct account. I came upon a short note from 2009. It was addressed to this friend who hasn’t been in touch with me for many years. I don’t know if I ever sent her this email, or if I sent it to my own email account just to get these thoughts and feelings out of my system. I don’t know.
I Don’t Know.
How often that is the right answer — the only answer but the hard answer — while we look for an excuse — any excuse — to cover up our ambiguity, our indecision, to our hesitant admission at being less informed than how we wish to be perceived. I don’t know if she ever saw this email, or read it, or came to a place of understanding it. I don’t know.
This is what I wrote in the email.
Dear Mona, I am sending you this because I love you. My pain is not less because I was never loved by Val. It has become less because I have chosen to love myself. Some folks within our community saw what was happening in our home, but were unable or unwilling to bear witness or to reach out. I might have confided in you about more had you been able to hear it, although not the worst of it. But today I am grateful for what I have, though it is much less than what you think I have, or what you yourself have. I am not speaking only of the inequity of our financial stability. My physical and mental health is compromised as I continue to seek the help I need after years of neglect to both. But through it all I find gratitude in everything around me. My home was filled with 25 guests, but my heart was filled with grief for you, the night I flew out to you at Vijay’s death. Because I loved you, not because I loved him. Always yours, Juhi.
……Followed by this quote from a book that had great impact on my life……
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy.
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self chosen. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility.
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen. And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay the potter has moistened with his own tears.
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
My signature was followed by this quote that helped me get through surviving alone through the trauma of those nightmare years.
Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams. — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.
Why do I write about pain and death with humor and good will? Because that is the way of life: filled with pain and death, and if we are very fortunate, able to be grasped in both hands with humor and compassion…like a piece of sweet pound cake served with bitter lemonade.