It was near time for me to leave the hospital. By then it was clear that I had survived where it was predicted I would not. I was yet too weak to be feeling joyous at the prospect of more time. The doctor, a man who loved to have information pried out of him, had come into the room to check on me. I was a little surprised because over the last couple of days, he had gone from a gray worried face to one that was a tad more reassuring. But at that moment, his worried face was back.
He'd taken my pulse, which he did ever single time he came to see me. It was as if he had to be reassured that I had indeed lived and that I was indeed going out into a future. As he was noting the rate of my heart, he opened my mouth and broke it. "You need to prepare yourself for what comes next. Most couples do not survive late onset disability." And then he was gone.
As his words found there way into my heart and mind, I lay there completely traumatized. It was like I'd had my breath punched out of me. My aloneness, something always present in every life, took hold of me. The doctor was gone so I couldn't protest. I couldn't shout out that we'd been together for nearly forty years. That I was sure, really sure, that it was not, would not be, over. Instead of shouting out, I shouted in. Like I wanted to shout down the specter of a Joe-less life, a Joe-less future.
I don't know if what the doctor said was true. I do know that what the doctor said was cruel. I now know that what the doctor had said, about 'us' was simply wrong. I had no cause to fear. But I did not know that then.
Until now, I've never spoken of this moment. Until Joe reads this when he gets up this morning, he will not know of it. I didn't tell him, at first, because I didn't want to put the idea in his head. I didn't want to bring up and discuss the possibility of a leaving that I was sure I'd not survive. A life on wheels did not frighten me. A life off the rails did. So, I kept quiet and let the fear settle. Then, later, much later, I couldn't because I hadn't.
Its five years later and I'm writing about gratefulness. I don't want to say that I'm grateful for not being left - though I am. But I have always felt that gratitude for what 'is not' leads the human heart and the human soul down the wrong path. Instead I want to be grateful for what is - the faithfulness, steadfastness, endurance of loving commitment. The desire to live with and love a constantly changing person.
I heard once, in a restaurant, a group of friends celebrating an anniversary. A wife toasted her husband saying that he was 'the same wonderful man she had married'. The idea of that horrified me. To be with the same person for 40 or 50 or 60 years. How horrible! Joe and I are not married, so I'd need to say in my toast, "Here's to the man Joe's become ... here's to the man he will be ... here's to a lifetime of becoming, together ..." I don't think either of us have ever wished for sameness from the other, a constancy of affection and love - yes, but sameness, no." Even when we first got together, I knew that what was, was; what will be, will be. Then, I never predicted disability, but I didn't predict our life together, as it happened, at all.
When I see couple's out. Couple's who, like us, have (to use the doctor's word) survived disability, I wonder. I wonder at the capacity of the human heart to hold, in loose grasp, the constantly moving, evolving, changing, soul of another. To love in this moment, with the 'now' clearly understood is one thing. But to continue to love in the next moment, with a different 'now' is another. To be loved "now" along with all the "thens" causes me, here on the dark early morning of a Thanksgiving Monday, to feel grateful.
(Image of a turkey holding aloft a Canadian flag. "Happy Thanksgiving, eh!" is written beside. Turkey looks to be relieved that the feast has come and gone and he ... like love ... has survived.)