When you love someone with a chronic illness, you live in a state of constant tension.
You are grateful to have them around but sad to see them in so much pain. You’re grateful they keep fighting but it gives you a false sense of security because they’ve rallied and overcome the odds so many times before. You don’t want them to be in misery, but you also don’t want them to miss out on all the big milestone moments.
You’re always worried you’re gonna get the call that confirms all your worst nightmares. Every time the phone lights up, you feel the panic rising in your chest that’s only relieved when you pick up and you hear the obligatory “everything is OK, I’m just calling to say hi” reassurance you need for your heart rate to return to an acceptable pace.
As time ticks on, you watch your loved one fading. They’re fighting but they’re tired.
The smiles are more strained and the laughs are less frequent. Conversations are shorter. The bouts of illness get longer. You sit next to them and are struck with this helpless feeling that you’re losing them in phases.
And yet, that shadow of shame settles into your heart every time you feel sad about it. Shame because they are still here and still fighting. Shame because you can still tell them you love them when so many others would jump at that opportunity. Shame that you’re not more grateful for the moments you’re given regardless of how fleeting they’ve become.
And through the roller coaster of it all, your heart attempts to prepare. You’ve rehearsed the what-if scenarios that could play out day after day. You’ve tried to grieve the little losses in an effort to make the finality of the big loss a little less earth-shattering.
You tried to prepare, and yet it didn’t work. You got the phone call. You rushed to the bedside. You said goodbye, and you’ll never know if you made it on time.
And, despite thinking you were ready, you weren’t. And once again you live in the tension of their passing.
You’re grateful their suffering has ended, but you’re grieved by the new season of suffering you’re entering without them.
You’re grateful for every “I love you” you never thought you’d get, but you’re grieved for the “I love you” that’s now lost with their absence.
It hurts more than you ever thought it could. It hit harder than you could have ever prepared for.
You’ll always wonder if you told them you loved them enough. You’ll always wonder if you thanked them enough. You’ll analyze and filter memories through this lens of grief with new what-if scenarios playing through your mind of was it enough?
And you wish you could go back. You would gladly trade this tension for the tension of before. You would gladly go back to jumping every time the phone rang if it meant they would be on the other line. In a heartbeat, you would go back to a short conversation if it meant they’d be the one you had it with.
You know the fact they are no longer suffering will be a comfort someday, but right now it’s just a reminder they’re not here today. And when tomorrow comes, it’ll be another day of a world that doesn’t include their laugh or wit or company.
You will search for them in all their old favorite songs. You will hoard old voicemails and letters to feel close to them because it’s all you have. The stages of grief will cycle through your days and hours, shifting and shaking your heart in unpredictable waves.
But, it is said that grief is the price we pay for love, and you will gladly pay it.
Because their love was worth it. The moments you got with them matter far after the moment has passed. And they will live in your heart forever.
In the days that follow, you will find a way to share the love they gave you with others. You will find a way to show the world how much their life mattered and how lucky you were to be part of it. You will find a way to honor their life while mourning your loss.
And while the pain can be unbearable, I hope you can see that the love is unbreakable. Their departure from this world broke you, but their love will fill in the cracks and hold you together again. The same memories that hurt now will bring healing and comfort later. And they are yours to cherish and hold on to forever. And that is something you get to carry with you for all of your days.