Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Love Because

So she knows.  So you all know.   I don’t think I have some sort of heroic love for Marty in spite of the infirmities.  I’m really not that altruistic or giving.  The strokes have changed us, the strokes have altered our approach to life, the strokes do not define how we love.

I love her just because, just because she is who she is.   I love her because of what she has done for me; I love her because she still does things for me. I love her because that’s where my heart leads me.

I love her because she still laughs at my stupid jokes and my 14 year old boy humor.  She laughs even when I’m not funny and frankly, that’s most of the time.

I love her because she looks in my eyes and tells me honestly, because she is no longer capable of deceit, “I love you……..a lot.”

I love her because when I bend down to kiss her cheek she looks at me and says, “Again.”  I kiss her cheek again and she says, “Again.”  That goes on for five or six times until she is satisfied.

I love her because when I touch her back she says scratch and then with her right thumb she guides my hand, up, down, right, left, to the spot that itches.

I love her because when she is pushed up to the table and looks at the food I have prepared she always says, “That looks good.”  Again, she has no deceit in her, she means it, and sometimes the food is not that good but she eats it without complaint.

I love her because she forgives all of my sins without pause.  When I get angry and then apologize she doesn’t hold anger in her heart she very simply says, “That’s okay.”   

I love her because when I say I’m going to take some time off, some time away from care giving, she has never once, not one time said, “No, don’t do that.”  Instead she always says “That’s a good idea. “ And, when I return, she always says, “I missed you,” even when she doesn’t remember I had been gone.

I love her because she has taken all the world has thrown at her, the loss of physical functions, the loss of cognitive abilities, the loss of communication skills and she has survived.  She has survived the countless indignities that go along with this disease and approached them all with grace, dignity and a sweetness that covers up the anger and disappointment that I’m sure exists on some visceral level.  

I love her because she is cleverer than it may seem.  As she watched me gather Christmas gifts and items she kept asking me, “Is that from Kindler’s (her favorite local jewelry store).”  She kept asking about different boxes, she wanted to know if that was from Kindler’s.  She knew they weren’t Kindler’s boxes….she knows a Kindler’s box.  And yes, I’m headed to Kindler’s before Christmas.

I love her because she trusts me and depends on me for her care.  She doesn’t trust just anyone, but she looks at me and I know she has faith in me to care for her, to support her and to ensure she is safe.  Her faith in me is probably stronger than my faith in me and I love her for that.

I love her because through all of our years together, through all of the ups and downs and vagaries of our lives she has made me a better person.  She has challenged me, she has defied me, and she has raised my own expectation of myself.  She has taught me to listen and learn.  She has taught me humility and given me confidence.  

I’ve never known anyone with Marty’s passion, her wit, her wisdom and her heart.  She is and will always be one of a kind.  She continues to make me laugh and when she laughs it brightens my heart. 
You gotta love that in spite of it all.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Loving In Spite of Life

I see her watching me as I decide on gifts and sort them and package them for Christmas.  I see her brain haltingly process what she sees, I see in her someone who wants to break out and tell me I’m doing it all wrong and to just step back as she fixes the mess I’m making.  

I asked her what she was thinking and she said, “I feel bad because I used to do that and now I can’t.
There are too many things gone.  The stuff she can’t do matters to Marty, it makes a difference to her.  And, yes, what she can’t do matters to me, what has been lost matters to our children and family.  

We love other people.   We can’ help it.  I think it’s the natural human condition.  Most of the time loving someone is really excellent; sometimes it gets really hard, some people do things that make it really hard to love.

I’m not particularly comfortable or good at being cynical (I’m a lousy poker player) and I’m not even sure it is necessarily a cynical thought, but I think most of the time we love people not because of what they do but in spite of the things that they do. 

It’s been my mantra for years.  When I managed call centers it was my daily prayer because there were some people who were really hard to love….I don’t need to name names, you know who you are.

The fact that Marty married and loved me and stayed with me for over 35 years proves my theory.  Marty loved me, even though she sometimes didn’t like me.  She loved me in spite of my lack of self awareness or understanding.  She loved me in spite of my obsessive approach to my career and how too often the job took precedence over more important things.  She continued to love me as we moved from one town to the next when she never wanted to leave where we were.

Our children she loved (loves) unconditionally, in spite of their moody, lazy, self-absorbed adolescence.  She once told me that adolescence was God’s way of preparing us for our children’s pending independence.  She said by the time we got through the teen age years we really wanted them out of the house.

In spite of our spawn’s perfect upbringing our children did not always behave perfectly and at times got on their mother’s last nerve.  I know because she told me, a lot.  She loved them anyway and was always their fiercest defender, even when she was angry at their behavior.  She loved them in spite of the behavior.

Marty loved her children and me with a passion; she didn’t know any other way to love.  She took the kids to the doctor and dentist and orthodontist.  She helped with the school projects; she was their educational advocate and biggest cheerleader.  She didn’t do any of that to earn their love or respect. 

Her love was never predicated on it being returned, it just was because they forever belonged to her.
Fast forward to today, Marty the mother, Marty the wife is different.  She can no longer be the advocate or the defender or the counselor or the adviser or the problem solver.  As I lost part of my partner our children lost that part of their mother.  

What did not go away was their love for their mother, they love her in spite of the strokes, they love her in spite of the losses.  We all love her more dearly in spite of it all.  It matters to her that I’m standing there wrapping and bagging Christmas gifts and frankly I would like to have her doing it. 
I never loved her because she did that stuff, I still love her in spite of the fact she can’t do it anymore.  That doesn’t make me or our kids heroes, it makes us human.

Our lives have been a constant sea of role changes over the past years.  Disability alters so many things.  I think Marty, at times, feels “less than” because of her brokenness, I think, at times, Marty doesn’t feel like she can fulfill her role as wife and mother.

Love is not predicated on what one does for another.  Love is about accepting the sins with the sinner and loving past the sins, loving past the brokenness, loving in spite of what we do or don’t do. 
I hope it’s the human condition. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

How Do You Feel About That

“How do you feel about that?”  It was a big question for Marty; it was an important question for her, it was a question she taught me ask. 

First you ask, “How do you feel about that?”, then you work on learning to listen to the response, then you learn to quit saying, “Well, you should just quit feeling that way, that’s dumb.” 
Uh, yeah, guess what was dumb, saying that.

Yes, I know, how could someone enlightened ever utter those clearly stupid words?  Clearly I haven’t always been that enlightened.  Clearly, living with Marty and listening to her has led me to great wisdom.

Marty taught me, not without some screaming and shouting, that other people have feelings that I may or may not understand.  Other people may have feelings that make little sense to me and it doesn’t matter if I agree with the feeling. 

Unfortunately, or fortunately, I’m not in charge of how other people feel.   Other people get to feel based on their perspective and life experiences, I can’t change it, I can’t fix it, and my thinking their feelings are stupid is….well stupid.

I learned from experience that Marty saw and understood things differently from me.  As much as we were alike, our life experiences were different enough, our psyches diverged enough that we saw things differently and felt different things.   

It was ridiculous for me to pass judgment on her feelings based on what I felt, on my experiences.  She was allowed to have her own feelings, she was allowed to be sad, happy, mad, or distraught even if I wasn’t and to discount those feelings were discounting her and just plain wrong.  We have to try and understand another’s perspective before saying, “Well, it’s dumb to feel that way.”

So guess what white people, we don’t get to tell the black folks in Ferguson, Missouri or any other place how they should feel or act.  We don’t get to say you shouldn’t feel mistreated and mistrusting just because we have never felt that way.  

If someone I have lived and loved with for 40 years has had different feelings and experiences it’s a lead pipe cinch that African Americans will have had different experiences from my white, privileged self. Our experience as white folk is different than those who have too often been mistreated because of pigmentation.  We don’t get to pass judgment because we don’t agree with the feelings of anger, fear and distrust.  You can disagree, but you can’t say it’s stupid for those folks to feel anger and fear.

The simple fact is we don’t have to know or understand or agree or validate those feelings.  We do have to respect that other people legitimately, because of their lives, see things and feel things differently, not better, not smarter, not dumber, just different.   

These feelings, these emotions aren’t always productive, I get that.  In fact, they are sometimes counterproductive and are expressed in ways that are damaging.  That does not negate the fact that people feel for different reasons and we don’t get to discount those emotions.  It works best if we can try and understand why people feel the way they do.  Frankly it’s not that hard.

Marty’s mother, Jean, once wrote me an incredibly nice note and thanked me for loving Marty.  She thought I brought out the best in Marty and thought I had helped her learn empathy.  

Truth, Marty is the one who helped me with empathy and understanding; she is the one that taught me to ask, “How do you feel about that?”  She is the one that taught me that all I needed to do was accept other’s feelings, not pass judgment on them for feeling something I didn’t understand. 

I still ask Marty how she feels about stuff.  More often than not I get a standard, “I don’t know” response.  I suspect that is the truth.  Through her stroke fogged brain she probably doesn’t precisely know how she feels about something.

It doesn’t matter.  I know she still feels, I know it still matters to me and I know how she feels belongs to her.  My job is to ask.