Did I Sign Up For This?

Even though so many of our New Year’s resolutions get tossed out the door before we even take down the Christmas lights, January is still a time of beginnings. Fresh starts. Clearing out of clutter. Reorganizing. Building new habits.

Well, I’m doing all of that. And I hate it. My whole life needs to be reshaped, but not in a way I initiated or would have chosen.

My beloved partner of 14 years was hospitalized in early October for a severe infection. After a series of complications that included dramatically severe reactions to medications and a high-risk surgery, in mid-November he died.

So my reboot for this new year means adjusting my days around the huge empty space where he used to be. The man I woke up with, hiked with, enjoyed deep conversations with, and worked crossword puzzles with (I did names, puns, and references from classic fiction; he handled geography, science, and French.), is gone.

Gone too soon. This active, younger-than-his years man left so much unfinished. Research projects not completed, students not graduated, grandchildren not grown, trips not taken, and so many conversations and experiences not shared. He left behind memories, stories, sadness—and a whole house full of artifacts of his life.

One of them is this school picture from first grade. That sweet, tentative smile and the vulnerability of those eyes behind the big glasses just melts my heart. I want to reach back in time, scoop that innocent darling child up onto my lap, wrap my arms around him, and tell him some things he couldn’t know back then. This is what I would say:

“You are going to have such a wonderful life. You will grow up to be a man of honor and integrity that people trust and respect. You will have a long, fulfilling career doing work that you love. You will travel to many of the fascinating places you are just beginning to learn about. You will be a learner and a teacher, helping shape the lives and work of people all over the world. Of course you will have hard times and disappointments and pain; everyone does. You will also have much happiness. Many, many people will learn from you and love you and be grateful for your part in their lives. Your life will be rich and full, and the things you do will make the world a better place.”

The long-ago photograph of an endearing little boy captures just one moment in a full life. Then, too, his painful last weeks were just one tiny segment of that life. The distance between the lovable child he was and the beloved wise elder he became was a long, rich path.

I’m so grateful that I was able to walk part of that path with him. This new beginning of a new path that I’m coping with now is hard. I didn’t want this transition I’ve been handed. There are so many painful moments: I find the stub of a play we attended in the pocket of a coat he’ll never wear again. I pick up a page of unfinished research notes in his handwriting. I walk by myself on a trail where we held hands the last time I was there. It’s all hard. It all hurts.

And it’s all a fair exchange. This difficult life change wasn’t really forced on me at all. I chose it, as one of the inevitable possible consequences of choosing to share life and love with someone else. No one made me take the risk to open my heart. I did it myself. I would do it again. The past 14 years of partnership, conversation, laughter, and love were worth it.

Categories: Family, Loss and Healing | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “Did I Sign Up For This?

  1. madraallta

    my condolences on your loss. I have to say this is the best tribute I have ever seen about a person’s love and loss. your an amazing writer. That man was lucky to have you in his life. I almost feel as if i knew him through your heartfelt words. Brought tears to my eyes and yet I feel your joy of having had that 14 year experience. Feeling grateful as well as sad. Thank you for sharing it. It is indeed the best goodbye to a loved one I have ever read. i would like to share it on my little blog if you would not be offended. ?

  2. Mary Hercher

    Dear Kathleen, thinking of you. If you need a helping hand, I have 2.

  3. Anna Marie Thatcher

    Thank you for sharing this, Kathleen. I appreciate your perspective as I also move forward on my own journey.

  4. Marci bartlett

    Dearest Kathleen, your talent for speaking your heart is so moving. I find myself so proud of you and so sad for you, but so happy that you had this special love who gave you such wonderful memories. So many people never have that blessing. I’m thinking of you and blinking back tears and wanting to hug you and tell you how I hurt for you and wish I could help you heal. I know I haven’t seen you for years and years, but you are very special. Much love, Marci

  5. Pingback: Did I Sign Up For This? — Practical Prairie Woman – Country Days

  6. Flo fillipi

    What a wonderful tribute to Alvis. I feel so blessed to have known him and visited with him. what a knowleable person he was and so many people were part of his life .Everything he taught and shared will be part of many lives . I love you and you are in my thoughts daily.

  7. Juanita Edinger

    You write with eloquence and yet great simplicity. Wish I could have met this amazing man. May you be blessed with more great memories.

  8. This could not have been easy to write, Kathleen, but I don’t think it could have been done any better. You’re immensely talented at articulating emotion into words. I am going to borrow your words to express what many people feel about you: “Many, many people will learn from you and love you and be grateful for your part in their lives.”

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