Even though you spend your whole life talking, it is usually about the plan for the day and who is eating what and what laundry needs to be done, that doesn’t mean that you can talk about the Things that Matter with The Person who Matters Most. Even if you have spent a lifetime sharing your plans and dreams and hopes and aspirations, you may not be able to pivot to talking about life and death and the future that you never imagined would be yours.
This is not your therapist or your best friend. This is the person who knows that you got up in the middle of the night and never came back to bed because you were hurting or anxious or overmedicated or whatever.
This is the same person who knows that you have to get dressed in the morning and confront the body that isn’t the body that you thought you would have in your mid-forties, despite eating and living “better” and exercising more than anyone else you know.
So we go on a trip. And it takes time. And it’s a blessing to have someone that you can talk to. But even so, it takes time. And even when you live side-by-side and experience all the same things, it still takes time to find the words to share the experiences that you are sharing.
This is the person you thought you would grow old with who thought he would grow old with you.
This is the person who comes home to you at the end of the day when you have been reading blog posts by women who died from the same diagnosis that you have right now and who have shared and articulated your worries before you even knew that they were yours. The words of these women may haunt you, and you may have to hide their effects from your children, but you will not be able to hide them from the person who knows you best and observes you most closely.
You did not get married for the “in sickness and in health” clause, but it’s there in the vows anyway.
You can’t just open a conversation with your life partner about disease, illness, life, and death. It’s a slow process of coming together and unpeeling the layers of the onion that allows you to have the actual, true, deep conversation that you need to have.
This realization is the beginning of a tradition of making the time and space to be together, and living within the same truth as your partner.
For us, it began last year when my colleagues were kind enough to give us a weekend away together at a fancy inn (shout out to Langdon Hall, omg, also the source of picture above), and my mom was kind enough to come stay with our two children for the weekend. I made the reservation without feeling the need, or even the ability, to be in the same place as my husband for the weekend. We packed ourselves into a car with a little luggage, and my chemo-ravaged body was barely aware enough to make commit to the 90-minute drive. But once we got there, the inn was decorated in its Christmas finery and there was a fresh blanket of December snow on the ground, which we walked through on a beautiful Saturday morning. We had the most amazing meals, which we neither needed nor asked for, but enjoyed nonetheless. Our room had a fireplace. There was silence for reading, thinking, and talking.
And slowly we are able to talk to each other. Fears are not so difficult to talk about. It’s actually harder to talk about hopes and dreams, the little things that we hope that we can do differently, the changes that we want to improve our lives.
This year we are about to do it again. We are headed to Massachusetts, and we will make a few stops, partly to consult the Medical Experts, and partly to just spend time together. I now know that it is important just to be in the same space, with quiet and no to-do list. Mostly I think that this is the only way to sync up, to put our spirits in the same place, to simultaneously contemplate the questions: What is this life that we have together? Is it good? Is it what we want?
When this column came out last winter, it kicked off an informal vigil among many of the women I know to try to follow the author’s illness, It also resonated for me. It’s