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I’m sat in a dingy church basement sipping lukewarm earl grey tea, sans milk, at 11.30 on a Saturday morning.
I feel excited, euphoric – like something unexpected and magical is about to happen.
As I was walking to this Twelve Step meeting, I’d been listening to my ‘happy music’ and planning the festival wedding I intend to one day have with my now-boyfriend.
(Yeah… there ain’t no ring on my finger yet, but when did that ever stop a woman from diving headfirst into her wedding day visualizations/ Pinterest board as though it were a vat of full-fat cream?)
Still high from the images in my mind of a bejeweled-me wafting around the lawn clinking champagne glasses with my nearest and dearest, I’m suddenly snapped back to the present as one of the women in the meeting introduces today’s speaker.
The speaker looks old and weary; she’s clearly been through a lot of late.
We all wait expectantly for her to share her story.
“My husband died ten days ago.” - is what she opens with.
My elation instantly subsides.
“I’ve been planning a memorial service to celebrate his life,” she continues.
The silence in the room thickens, as she goes on to explain that two years ago, her husband of twenty-five years suffered a stroke, which rendered him very much incapacitated, and only able to utter one word:
She’d spent all day every day since caring for him in every way conceivable, and now found herself overwhelmed by freedom, time and space.
Her husband had been a painter – of extraordinary talent and skill.
Prior to his illness, he’d exhibited his paintings all over the world, and was highly revered amongst his friends and artistic contemporaries for his work.
The woman pauses in her story for a brief moment.
“I could never see what was right in front of me,” she says.
Her husband had been a stoical man. Quiet and reserved, he was not accustomed to sharing his emotions with others - unlike his wife, who had always worn her heart very much on her sleeve.
“What are you feeling, though??” she’d often plead to him, desperate to connect and converse with the man she’d once walked down the aisle towards.
All she’d ever wanted was just to feel included in his internal world, however melancholic it might be.
His silence felt like exclusion, like a betrayal.
At times, the separation and loneliness was too much to bear, and she became crippled with frustration at his reticence.
“I could never see what was right in front of me,” she says again.
When her husband died, what she was left with was even more silence – as well as a multitude of paintings, drawings and sketches.
They filled practically every wall and corner of their home.
It was only when he – the artist - was no longer there, that she – his wife, - was finally able to see his creations clearly for the first time.
What she saw was a tidal wave of emotion and feeling – some light and hopeful, some dark and nebulous, many, everything in between.
What she saw was him, all of him – all that depth and connection and feeling that she’d been so intently focused on extracting from him while alive.
The irony was that he’d been pouring it out right in front of her, all along.
“Don’t miss what’s right in front of you,” she says for the final time.
“Don’t try and manipulate love into presenting itself in any other way than it chooses to, because in doing so, you deny it’s innate beauty.”
She concludes, convicted:
“What you’re seeking is already here; it might not be in the form you hoped for, but it’s all you’ve got. Don’t miss it.”
Inevitably, I find myself thinking of my own relationship.
Sometimes, I thrust myself into our future – mine and his: our summer holiday, buying our first home, our wedding - because I’m afraid of standing still in the beauty of what we already have.
I’m afraid that it’s not enough, but I’m even more afraid that it’s everything and I’m going to lose it.
So, I run away from that terrifying thought by propelling myself into a virtual reality.
Listening to this woman, this brave, wise warrior of a woman, I have learned something valuable about partnerships.
I have learned that planning and hoping for more for us in the future is fine – is wonderful, in fact, so long as it’s not at the expense of fully experiencing and appreciating where we are now.
And I’ve learned that sometimes it’s in the silence between two people that love is most fully expressed.
I’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU:
Do you ever struggle when someone holds back from sharing their emotions with you? How does it make you feel and behave?
Also, have you ever missed what was right in front of you? What did you learn from this experience?
Finally, like me, do you sometimes find yourself ‘numbing out’ by fantasizing about your future to avoid your present? How and why?
Let me know your answers to any of the above in the comments below – I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic :)