On Leaving a Loved One

The other day while knitting, for diversion I picked one of the first movies that popped up in the first fringe netflix category I could find. It was Our Souls at Night starring the aged Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. They play long-widowed neighbours who finally decide to spend their nights together to relieve their loneliness. Because netflix doesn’t have any really fringe categories, of course a romance develops. Watching about a third of it was enough to get the idea.

In these months of terminal illness, I have at times asked Roy what he is thinking or feeling about his future without me, but he hasn’t wanted to talk about it much. I often mention him having another relationship once I’m gone, and we’ve made some good jokes about him bringing a date to my funeral. But I thought I should respect him not wanting to talk seriously about the time after me, and especially another woman after me, which for him feels uncomfortably close to infidelity.

Lucie, a kind friend who lost her husband to a sarcoma years ago, told me that she decided while her beloved was ill to simply make the most of her time with him while he was still alive. She knew there would be plenty of time to miss him once he was gone and to figure out her future when it came. She wanted to enjoy being with him while she could. I thought that was wise.

Susan and Roy summer 2017

A polaroid of Roy and me in June.

But not talking about it has allowed me not to think about it too much either. As I was watching that movie, Roy arrived home from work, and I turned it off. I realized why I had chosen it. And why I’d started reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, her account of losing her husband. I’ve been thinking more about Roy, in particular Roy without Susan. It’s time I attend to him in some way. Unlike me, he has been quite selfless in his attendance to his beloved. He has demanded so little for himself. He has always stepped aside to allow my children and my family priority—reasoning that he gets more time with me anyway. He patiently learned to navigate the tricky territory of helping a fiercely independent person. He even learned to load the dishwasher such that it doesn’t require reloading! He’s been pretty sweet. And he never complains or says anything that might make me feel bad for leaving him—though I feel bad anyway. In fact, he often comments on how lucky he is. I think I’m the lucky one.

But I have no idea what to do about his future without me. How do I comfort him now for when I won’t be here? How can I know what he might need? Reading Joan Didion’s book and watching that movie are part of my way of trying to learn what he might need in a time of mourning or in the years to follow. Of course, neither book nor movie will tell me. For one thing, Didion’s book documents a pathological grief, not the healthier mourning I expect Roy to experience after these months of preparation. And the movie is really just about two older people who don’t want to be alone anymore. I’ll have to keep looking for sources of insight.

From my own years of experience after the loss of a spouse (mine didn’t die but disappeared, abandoning us for his alcoholism), the pain of loneliness has no cure other than what one is lonely for. I suffered through years of acute loneliness despite having friends and family and my children. My longing was for an intimate partner, for something those other relationships couldn’t give me. Of course, social time and work and fun all helped to divert me from that pain at times. But nothing could cure it. (Unfortunately, I ended up entering another unsuitable marriage in an attempt to end those years of suffering.)

Roy and Susan on train to TO.JPG

Roy and Susan on the train to Toronto a few weeks ago.

So what can I do for Roy? I recall reading not so long ago about a woman who, from her deathbed, sent out a plea for a new wife for her soon-to-be widowed husband. I have joked with Roy that I could help him create a new OK Cupid profile. (That’s how we met!) Or tinder. But realistically, as much as I’d like to, I can’t help him with this one. Without bitterness or self-pity, he says he imagines going on alone—but I don’t want him to be lonely. Neither of us have any idea when or if he’ll want a new relationship. Nor do we have any idea what woman would be right for him. He sweetly says that nobody could compare to me. But I say he’d probably end up with someone completely different from me—so there wouldn’t be any point in comparison. He says maybe he’ll get a dog. (Roy is not a dog person.) So we joke about what kind of dog would best replace me. We agree a border collie mix.

The only worthwhile thing I can do –aside from taking him shopping for some decent clothes– is follow my friend Lucie’s advice myself. I can make the most of this time together. I can do my part in making our relationship the healthiest, most loving possible, so Roy has a good model to work from for next time. Most importantly, I can love him all I can so he is left feeling full of love—enough to last him a good long time, until he is ready for someone else and s/he (you never know) for him. I definitely don’t want to leave him depleted and burnt out. I need to pour love like water from a big jug, over and into him until he is fully saturated like a sponge, overflowing.

So far, that’s all I’ve figured out. And once again, I see it’s the same conclusion as in so many of these posts. It keeps coming down to love. And more love.

About susanbriscoe

English teacher, writer
This entry was posted in On Dying and Living and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to On Leaving a Loved One

  1. curioussteph says:

    Your perfect last line says it all. It keeps coming down to love. More love.

    Liked by 2 people

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  3. Betty Metzler says:

    Lovely words again Susan; some things just can’t be planned. Take care of my bro, as you have been and yourself.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Dorothea says:

    Susan, having just discovered this jewel of a blog, I’ve read it from beginning to end today. It seems that underlying your sage acceptance, your delightful sense of humour, your curiosity and calm cheer, is the natural rotating concern you have for your sons, parents, family members, friends, and Roy as they come to grips with the idea of losing you.
    When my Dad was at the palliative stage, I asked him how he felt about what was coming and he replied, “I’m not afraid of dying; I’m curious to see what happens next. It’s not me I’m worried about: what I’m worried about is how the rest of you are going to manage after I’m gone.”
    Again, you’ve nailed it: perhaps the one thing we do know is that love in all its mysterious ways never forgets and never stops giving. I’m convinced that love leaks through the otherwise impermeable boundary between life and death, sustaining those of us left behind in unexpected ways.
    On your journey, remember the timeless and unbounded love we hold for you.

    Liked by 2 people

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  6. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this difficult subject. I was deeply moved as I read your post. I can only offer my own thoughts; if I was in your husband’s place, the most important thing for me would be to keep making memories together. God bless.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Boy Blue says:

    So beautiful. My wife (Sharon) who I met on facebook after a long turbulent “marriage” to a “difficult” (borderline personality disorder/alcoholic) shared this story with me. I have read a few stories by Roy as well. There are many parallels iin your story and the narrative we are living. I have a daughter who is thriving as a musician in Spain who was once almost lost to drugs but did a successful program at Portage for teens. We don’t have a death sentence hanging over us (at least not as impelling as yours).
    Crazy as it seems, I feel like we are old friends after this brief and seemingly impersonal one sided interaction. Much in the way I love the people I have met anonymously at Al Anon. Those relationships taught me how to live fully and return to my quest for truth and beauty from a squandered life of “duck and dodge” and needless suffering.
    You would have liked us (Sharon and me) my music, our music, our humour.
    Life on life’s terms ……the hardest lesson of them all is accepting that.

    Truth and Beauty,
    Ian Hanchet

    Liked by 3 people

    • susanbriscoe says:

      So nice to meet you here, Ian! I am very glad to hear that your daughter is now thriving — I know too many parents who have lost their beloved children to drugs, and it’s just heartbreaking. I imagine you’re as grateful as I am for getting your child back, even if they are living far away! It sounds like you’ve learned the right lessons, so keep on enjoying a life steeped in truth and beauty! And thanks for so kindly reaching out.


  8. I love you, Susan. Roy, too. People die but love lives forever, rest assured.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Stanley Lake says:

    You are a wonderful writer, thank you for your insights


  10. yaaffandina says:

    This particular blog is such an eye opener to the value of life, love, meaningful relationships, death, departing, humor, comfort zones and much much more. Thank you for sharing your story with us. It makes now have to go to work in a attempt to fix so many things needing to be fixed.


  11. Dan Bohn says:

    I checked out Susan Briscoe’s WID Portfolio, and my take away was that, “Students actually like writing.” I’m sure when you corrected your son’s written grammar, and not considering his thought expression, was a great learning leap forward for you.

    Susan, I have been taking an online grade school grammar course on Khan’s Academy website. What makes your posts alluring is that they are easy to read; except for words like “pedagogical” I’ll look that up later.

    Teaching grammar is important. I now read more carefully, I find myself STUDYING YOUR posts. I trust your writing skills. Such as where you use a comma, and portions where you do not. I never liked writing because it took to long to find correct spelling in a dictionary, you know (the big book kind of dictionary.) At age forty I discovered “Spell Check.” At age sixty-five I started a blog site on WordPress. Bless you Susan for all the minds and hearts you have touched.

    As we live life I find people are not taught about handling finances, nor about their final breathe. You are a beautiful, wonderful, and courageous teacher Susan. Thank you for sharing a life lesson, and the importance of love.
    With Joy,
    Dan Bohn


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