Today I received the incredibly sad news that one of my son’s grade-school mates has died. In his teens he was diagnosed with cancer, underwent treatment, entered full remission but still … it came back. And now he is gone.
I am no longer close with his parents but my heart still breaks for them. I can’t even imagine. Because when they birthed this son 27 years ago they did not sign up for this. They did not plan to outlive their child and they did not plan to endure this pain.
Much like my friend D whose husband left us late last year. One day he was healthy as a horse and the next the Big C arrived on his doorstep. And now he too is gone. I’m quite sure D had every intention of spending her twilight years with her beloved spouse. They were still madly in love and looking forward. No, D did not sign up to be widowed before 65. She did not plan to endure this loss and this pain.
I have other friends who lost their son to an accident and still other friends whose 16 year old child went to sleep one night and just never woke up. I wonder still how they get up every day and get on with life? How do they endure the pain?
But it’s not just parents who lose children. There is so much pain everywhere.
My friend S is facing divorce. After 25 years of marriage her husband has decided he wants something else. Or someone else. Whichever the case, he doesn’t want to spend the future with her. This is not what S signed up for. She (quite literally) signed up for a lifetime. She took vows and has always chosen to honour them. Her husband did not. And now she must endure the torturous pain of marital dissolution. No. This is definitely not what she signed up for.
Which reminds me of my aunt. It was a conversation with her many years ago that brought this entire concept of “signing up” to my attention. You see her husband suffered a massive stroke when he was 47 and for the next 25 years she became his nursemaid. He was (somewhat) mobile and could communicate but if you’ve ever experienced the metamorphosis of a stroke victim you know that everything changes. Not just the physical but the mental and the emotional as well. My dear and selfless aunt devoted those years to caring for her husband even though he was no longer the husband she had married.
Now remember she was my aunt and as such we had never really conversed beyond “Merry Christmas and how are you?” But one day we landed in my parents’ driveway and got to talking about her life and this constant care and my uncle and his challenges and I blurted out (apparently I’ve never had much of a filter) “Holy cow, this must be SO hard on YOU. I mean, geez, I bet when you got married you never thought for a minute that THIS is what you signed up for!”
And she looked at me with great relief and said “You know what, Vickie, that is the truth. That is the absolute reality. I did NOT sign up for this.” And then she sighed and continued “But I did. I said for better or worse. And so for me there is no choice but to endure. Because as it turns out I actually did sign up for this.”
And there it is. The truth. When we love … when we decide to love, choose to love, commit to love or even fall in love … we are signing up for “the great unknown”. We are making a conscious decision to damn the torpedoes and dive into the deep end (is that too many metaphors?) knowing full well that we may drown. But we dive anyway. We take the risk. We gamble with the fates. We TRUST that whatever love we experience will be worth the pain we may have to endure somewhere down the road. THAT is love’s bargain. Take it or leave it but it’s the same bargain for all of us, young or old, rich or poor.
You never know WHAT you are signing up for. You just know that you were built for love and therefore love you must.
A just lost his dog. She had a good long life and it was her time and yet A’s grief is overwhelming. We all know that chances are we will outlive our pets but when we do that grief is so very real – even when we’ve won the long-life lottery.
You know what? It’s okay to grieve and we should mourn and we should FEEL. Because that is exactly what we signed up for when we chose to bring that pet into our lives. We chose love even knowing that loss was inevitable. We STILL chose love.
Because yes, we were built for love and therefore love we must.
I was never 100% certain about the motherhood thing and to be honest I probably could have gone either way. And then my son entered this world and its axis shifted.
But what’s really interesting is how much MORE it has shifted over the years. My baby is now 26 and I can honestly say he is the love of my life. All those years I spent searching for romantic resonance and yet really all I had to do was give birth to it.
Now that it no way diminishes romantic love and all of us lucky enough to experience it. All I am saying is FOR ME the truest love, the most selfless unconditional love I have ever felt is for my son. And to be honest that kind of love terrifies me. Because of the “what if?”
I cannot even imagine the “what if”.
So I don’t. I embrace the “what is”. I express gratitude daily for the blessings we share and the blessings still to come. I ask for angels to comfort those in need (or if I can I try to do it myself) and I remind myself that life holds no guarantees.
And there’s the truth. When we sign up for love the contract offers not a single guarantee. We sign up for love we do so with faith and hope and trust in the Great Unknown. We do this because we BELIEVE.
We believe the risk of pain is far outweighed by the joys of love.
I can only hope that those who have loved and lost can live in the memories of the joys. The joys they might never have known without risking the pain.
I’ve known enough pain in my life to also know that love is worth it.
It may not always be what you signed up for but sign up anyway.
I’ll say it again – love is always worth it.