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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

You Never Know

Since Colleen's death I have heard many worn out clichés from well
meaning people. Most of them are meaningless in the midst of loss. I
have found the honest sharing of similar experiences with grief and
loss to be far more comforting and helpful. One trite, cliché phrase
that has stuck in my mind is, "You never know what you have until it
is gone." In spite of its shallow sentiment, this phrase has focused
my thoughts and lead to significant revelations.

The first feeling that this phrase brings to the surface is guilt. Of
course guilt comes in many forms and with many related emotions:
doubt, blame, regret, and denial are just a few. I still doubt the
decision to end the medical battle. I blame myself for Colleen's
decline and not doing more to help her. I regret not having spent
every possible moment with her. I don't want to accept the reality of
the situation; my love, my wife is gone.

I have spent the better part of the past two months surrounding myself
with such feelings and thoughts. When I do experience a moment of
levity I feel guilty. When I accomplish something (no matter how
insignificant) I regret not having done it earlier so I could share it
with Colleen.

As painful as all of this is, it is important to get all of these
sources of guilt out in the open. Without focusing on and allowing
these feelings to come out I would languish in them forever. Don't
get me wrong, most of my days are still dominated by depression and
feelings of pointlessness and dread. I am, however, spending much
less time with guilt and regret.

The second reaction I have to this idea of "never knowing what you
have" is to ask myself, "Would I have lived differently if I had known
before?" Obviously I am ignoring the important second factor of the
saying; yet it is a rut my mind has been stuck in. The initial answer
is to say that I would have spent more time with Colleen. I mean, I
would have spent more time with her over all of the years we were
together not just over the last two months of her life (that she spent
in the hospital). Clearly there is a connection to the flood of guilt
discussed above.

Then of course I realize that it would have been difficult to spend
more time with her. Career, family, and other obligations did take me
away from Colleen at times. It is easy to look back and say that I
would have given up that pointless meeting at work for another hour
with her. What fuels this desire for more time is even more guilt. I
remember Colleen's disappointment when I would come home from work and
it was later than she expected me home. My apologies to her seem so
inadequate now; she always said, "If you were really sorry, you would
have been home sooner or called."

In addition to questioning my own choices, I have to fight a desire to
try to "warn" others about "knowing what you have." In 2004 my
college advisor lost his wife to cancer. After she died, he told me
to appreciate what I had (as I had only been married a year at that
point). I remember not knowing exactly what he meant by that; I did
appreciate having Colleen in my life. Now I know the nuance and depth
of what he meant. The human animal always desires more and we desire
more strongly what we can't have. My friend's warning to appreciate
what I had comes in part from a place of jealousy. Certainly there is
also the notion that he might have "saved me from some regret." It
doesn't work that way though. I might be worse than him because I
want to stop random strangers (especially couples) to tell them to
appreciate life and the time they have. I have to stop myself from
admonishing friends and colleagues for not "focusing on what is
important." I am simply jealous; I want my love back.

So, while I could have altered a few minor decisions there really
isn't a way that life could have been different. I would/will always
want more time and I would never have enough. I have always been
haunted by the idea that you never know when you are going to loose
someone. Because of that, I never left Colleen without saying "I love
you" and knowing that she loved me. Her death, however, left me with
a splinter in my mind; unlike all of the Hollywood death scenes, we
did not have a final "moment" together. Colleen never woke up after
the infection was discovered. She died in my arms and now that she is
gone I know how important her love was.

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