What Do You Truly Want to Become?

Richard on California’s Big Sur Coast

A year ago, Richard and I were in Denver at what turned out to be his last appointment with Dr. Klein, his oncologist at the VA Medical Center. We looked over his most recent MRI. Dr. Klein pointed out that the rapidly growing tumor in his right brain looked stable, a surprise given his increasing difficulty using his left side, as well as new skin sores and other physical issues. His mind was still clear, his sense of humor quick, and his smile positively incandescent. But his body was clearly beginning to fail.

Because of that, she said, it would be best to cancel his monthly chemo infusion. “Are you okay with that?”

Richard looked at her, his gaze straight, understanding the implication. “I’’s not working, is it?”

She shook her head, and after a moment, passed a box of tissues. We all sniffled and blew our noses. Richard and I held hands.

“I’ll call to check on you in a few days,” she said, after asking if we needed anything. “You can always reach me.”

We hugged her and left, Richard walking slowly but confidently, using the cane he needed then for balance.

I think back to that day now as the wind howls and the temperature plummets; the weather reminds me of the drive home after that visit with Dr. Klein. A wintery wind buffeted our Subaru as we crossed the high country, as if echoing the grief chilling my heart. Richard held my hand even when he slept.

Kayaking on the Columbia River off Portland. (Photo by Molly Cabe)

He and I were partners in ways that are difficult to explain without sounding trite or sappy. We let each other in more deeply and trustingly than anyone before or since.

That kind of heart- and soul-connection is rare and precious, a gift I didn’t expect to receive and one I don’t imagine will come my way again. Which is okay. I say that only to explain why I haven’t, as some have asked lately, “moved on” yet.

We had almost 29 years to grow our love and partnership, and those years and that deep connection are not something to move on from. It takes time to sort out what my life means without Richard, just as it took time to grow what he called the “body of love” that sustained us, especially through the journey with his brain cancer.

Me riding a ferry in Alaska this summer. (Photo by Roberta Smith)

It’s not that I’m not living fully. But learning how to be me without him involves a lot of trial and error, thinking, and practice. Decisions that once would have been simple are not. The path forward isn’t clear.

As I was writing this post, I found a quote from the late Steve Jobs in my journal that’s the reminder I need as I feel my way forward….

Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.

What do you truly want to become? How does your writing contribute to that you?

8 responses to “What Do You Truly Want to Become?

  1. Susan,

    Yes, yes, and yes. The American Way of Grieving needs as much overhaul as The American Way of Death.

    “Move on.”
    “Get over it.”

    And other phrases reflect just how embedded our culture’s fixation on the quick fix really is. “Move on” from what? “Get over” what? It’s nonsensical to me.

    After my sister’s death in the car accident in 2004 my father and I grieved together more than with other family members. His saying was, “You don’t get over it. You go on with it.” You go on with all the gifts, and all the love, and all the pain, and all the glory.

    Before my mother’s last stroke in 2006 she reached over to grasp my father’s hand and said (in one of her flashes of lucidity from deep within stroke-induced dementia), “Erwin, I love you. We’ve had a good life together. You’ll have to go on alone now.”

    Your writing about the journey of love in the face of death has helped and inspired many. Learning how to be you without him… You will go on, but he and your love will always be in you and with you.

    Con Carino,

  2. Isn’t that true, Janet! I had never thought of it as “the American Way of Grieving” but it does need an overhaul. Those two phrases express the worst of it. We don’t “get over it” because “it” is part of who we are. As your father says, we go on with it. And we do the best we can to live in a way that honors and celebrates the love we’ve shared with those whose lives have taken them on to whatever’s next…. That’s my aim as I figure out who I am in this new phase, and where I hope to go. BTW, Your parents surely are/were treasures! I always love hearing your stories of them. Thanks for your wisdom. Blessings to you and yours!

  3. ”Moving on” is over rated. I am learning that it is about ”moving in” to our inner selves and to our innate need to survive and take care of ourselves so that we can ”move out” into the world in a totally new way, that being -without the physical presence of our loved one, and with a completely new relationship with ourselves and every else because we are not the same, will never be, when someone we are intimately/ inexorably linked to must move on to the next plane….

  4. Beautifully said, Carol! I think that one of the opportunities we have in losing someone we love is that we can move in and re-evaluate our lives–our goals, dreams, needs, even beliefs and values–and then when we “move out” we are, as you say in a completely new relationship with ourselves, others, and with life itself. It’s a transformative experience, and not one anyone of us want, but the opportunity is there so we might as well take it wholeheartedly…. Blessings!

  5. Wonderful quote. I like what you said, ‘the path isn’t clear’, but it makes me sad. I’m just in a real difficult spot in life and it’s one of the things I so wish for…I wish the path would be easier to see. I don’t allow myself to dream, because I don’t know how long this limbo I am in will last. So sorry for your loss.

  6. I’m sorry that you’re in such a difficult spot in life–being in limbo can be scary if we let it be, and I hope it eases soon. I think what I take from the Jobs quote is that if we listen carefully to our hearts and spirits, we’ll hear what we need. And sometimes that’s just to be where we are, hard as it is…. I find that when things are hardest, it helps to look for one grace note in each day, and for me that’s often in the wilder, wider world of nature. If you’d be interested, you’re welcome to look at my daily haiku/photo on Facebook. It might lift your spirits a bit. http://www.facebook.com/susanjtweitterraphilia?ref=hl

  7. Reading this, Susan, I’m so moved, like I was when I heard you read at the closing in April at the conference in Texas. In a reply above you write: “It’s a transformative experience, and not one anyone of us want, but the opportunity is there so we might as well take it wholeheartedly.” And what strikes me most there is the phrase “the opportunity is there.” It’s what we have: the opportunity. With loss and re-forming our lives transformation happens anyway, but what can and will we do with the opportunities we have in this fertile ground? Steve Jobs’ wise quote (and famous speech at Stanford) is even more poignant considering the gruff and visionary businessman he was and the fact that he dealt with and then died of cancer. Your wisdoms about your experience of deep love and loss are so valuable. One of the opportunities seems clear: opening the door to insight for so many others.

  8. Suzanne, That’s exactly it: we have opportunities (whether we see them that way or not). It’s our choice how we use them, and I write to encourage us all to use them with love and openness, so that our lives add to the ocean of Light that illuminates this world at its best…. Blessings to you!

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