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Our 26th anniversary--the fifth without Jane--a meditation

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Dear friends,

A "real" marriage is an insanely difficult thing to try to explain to someone who has not experienced it. I was reminded of that last week as I worked my way through one of the books in The Outlander series currently being serialized on television. Late in the fourth book, one of the characters describes the difference between a real marriage and one based on obligation. The difference isn't pretty.

But the character misses the point. She sees a real marriage as involving only a romantic kind of love. Her mother points out that real love creates obligations--and that obligations are just as important to a sound marriage as romance is. But even she does not entirely get what marriage is about--or at least she doesn't manage to explain it very clearly. In some respects, I don't think we can truly understand marriage until one member of the bonded pair has died.

Jane and I had a good marriage. We were each other's other half. We understood romance. We understood partnership. We understood love and the obligations to each other love creates. Then Jane got sick and we faced that the way we faced everything else in our lives--together.

And then she died and I discovered an entire piece of marriage I had not conceived of before--and that I don't think she had either. Love does not die when one of the partners ceases to be. Rather, at least for the one who still lives, it continues. It shapes who we are and who we become. It colors our perception of every subsequent experience. And it makes us a special kind of crazy.

Today is our 26th anniversary--the fifth since Jane's death in December of 2010. Intellectually, five years is a long time ago. But emotionally, it feels like mere minutes. We both knew there was a good chance that day would be the last anniversary we would truly celebrate together. Seven days later we would make our first trip to Boston to see an oncologist specializing in Jane's unique form of cancer. We knew we were in trouble.

But we tried to pretend for each other that day that nothing was different--that we still had years ahead of us. We both failed badly in those attempts. We went out for lunch. Jane tried to eat--and couldn't. We tried to walk more than the distance to the car, and Jane couldn't. Every failure hurt her. Every failure hurt us both. But we kept smiling and kept trying.

We had neither of us slept well for a long time. I have not slept well for a long time. Her slow decline into death haunts my dreams. Her rasping voice in the last days of her time in the hospital haunts my waking hours. It is the only version of her voice I can still hear--and I suspect I will hear it until I die. And perhaps I will hear it even then.

We made that last anniversary as normal as we could. We exchanged gifts and cards when we woke up. She read my anniversary poem. I fixed us our traditional anniversary breakfast of chocolate croissants and tea. We talked about our hopes and dreams for the year ahead.

Jane never asked me for a particular present for our anniversary until the last one. She had seen a sterling silver bracelet on a leather band. The bracelet framed a single word: "Believe." It was a message to us both.

It is the one piece of her jewelry I have never put away. It sits on a mirror on a bookcase in the living room, amid our own glass menagerie. It sits between Jane's Pegasus and my dragon--the symbols we had adopted for ourselves long before we met. Behind it stand three glass unicorns, pawing the air as they prepare to gallop. To the right is a tiny glass beaker, to the left, a small royal swan. Every piece held meaning for us--every piece still has meaning for me.

Every day, I remind myself, I yet have work to do in the world. And every day, I miss her. I miss the shared goals, the shared dreams, the shared aspirations--shared in a way they cannot be shared now. 

And some days, it is all just too much. I want to stay in bed and stare at the ceiling. But I can't. And I won't. Jane won't let me--and neither will I. That's not to say I don't take time to cry when I need to, take a day to sit by the ocean and watch the waves come in or climb to the top of some hill or mountain and sit and watch the sky.

But Jane told me I could not stop doing the work just because she was no longer there to do it with me. We both had dreams. It is left to me to make them real. 



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Happy Anniversary Harry!   In three weeks it will be my fifth alone as it is yours today. We do keep moving forward though don't we?  I still will celebrate that day for it always will represent the day she actually chose me to spend the rest of her life with. That's the nicest part Harry. Jane chose to spend the rest of her life with you.  She honors you every year.

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Dear Harry,

I find milestone days to be days of so many mixed emotions and epiphanies.  

This anniversary is another milestone to mark the love that goes on between you and Jane.  Even as the 'failures" to be able to walk further than the car, to do all those things we used to do with our beloved, to chart a course of wellness and safety through the scourge of illness surround us, we still have our love.  All these parts that fall away, that are diminished by illness, are each, in their own special way, a giving up, a loss, a letting go of a part of the life we shared with Jane, with Doug, with Jim, with George, with our beloved.

I keep hoping more and more of life will come in and assert itself, will fill in more of the deep cracks in my broken heart, and give me more of a feeling of wholeness again.  But what is happening as I watch the months, the years, the anniversaries, and the time go by is that the cracks are not being filled so much as softening.  The sense of my life that is slowly easing in to fill up the chasms of deep loss is a different stuff. Things are not the same.  Yet, as you say, the love is the same.

And so, as you celebrate this anniversary, and feel the longing and memories that it brings, I hope you will be able to allow more of the softening to take place, more of the pain to leave, and more of life to enter and assert itself as parts of the new life that we must lead these days.

I celebrate with you the loving marriage you and Jane have.  I celebrate your sense of the sharing and the soulful intimacy of an open heart with another person, and the adventure of giving ourselves over to loving in such a way that there are no hidden places left, but only open and thankful hearts, joined together in reverence and wonder at the gift of our love.



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I can't add much to what Fae and others have said here, but as usual your piece is beautifully written, Harry, and I share with you the wonder of your marriage to Jane and the memories. As time goes by I think we find that although it doesn't heal it does soften the pain just a bit, but I still hate the distance it puts between me alone and us together. A marriage like I was lucky enough to have doesn't end with death. That I do know. I wish others around me knew it too. I wish they could see that Pete is within me. But I suppose that is only of concern to me now.

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Thank you for always finding the words and bringing forth the meaning.  My husband, Mark LOVED being a husband, loved every aspect of being married.  He always told me I was the final piece to his puzzle.  I wish everyone could experience and understand a "good" marriage.  It is not always good, but it is NEVER always bad. When you enter into a partnership with another person, you learn from each other.  I think I am missing that a lot.  Not that I cannot go on and LEARN on my own, but it is not the same.  We were only married a little over 5 years, and we still felt like newlyweds.  We fell more in love with each other every day.  I am feeling really selfish because I wanted more time; I am sure we all feel that way.  Because we married so late in our lives, we joked that we probably wouldn't see our 50th...but never ever thought we wouldn't see our 6th.  I'm glad you have such a wonderful outlook, Harry.  We all appreciate it so very much.

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I always found the anniversaries hard to handle since George died, so I hope yours went better for you.  You had a beautiful marriage and it's no wonder you feel as you do.

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