A Love So Deep

Written by Cheryl Jones, M.S., M.F.T.

| 4 minutes
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“You’re not going to do it all,” she said. Firmly. I was confused. Of COURSE I was going to do it all. I was her lover, her partner, her forever. We were in this together! This was the most important job of my lifetime! How guilty would I feel if someone else took care of her?!? I should have known better than to believe I could change her mind when she was this sure.

Was this a follow-up to her statement a few weeks ago?

“If it gets to be too much, I’m ok with you putting me in a nursing home.” She laid this edict down at a table in our favorite restaurant, before the food came, with other people at the table.

What?!? I would NEVER DO THAT. I told her this would not be happening. No way.

Looking back, I see with a clearer eye what might have led her in this direction. She had a large community of deep relationships, born out of her family’s physical and emotional distance after she came out as a lesbian. But she had family in her friends. Even her exes loved her with a fierceness that dropped my mouth open. I, on the other hand, was an anxious social phobic, leaving the party as soon as the guests arrived; I had done this at many parties of hers!!

Dumbstruck, I simultaneously realized that she had every right to decide how she wanted to live this last time of her life. At diagnosis they had given her 6 months to a year, but she had already outlived that, so we lived in the land of “dying but we don’t know when”.  As she put it, “everyone’s going to be hit by a truck, but I’m so close I can see the dent in the fender.”

A few months later we were out to dinner with a crowd of her friends. The food was delicious, the conversation lively. And I was awkward, uncomfortable. Too big a crowd. Almost couldn’t eat the delicious Italian feast in front of me. Like a lightning bolt, it hit me, “I am not going to be able to do this unless I drop my shyness. Completely. I can’t be who she needs if I resist all these people.”

I looked around at the (small) crowd. We were going to do this together. We were going to help her die.

The next time we talked about the support we would need, she said, “you are the only one who can be my partner, my love. I need you to accept all the help so that you can be that.” It wasn’t an easy thing to embody; I lived on the premise that I proved my love by how much I could overdo it. How much I did for you equated to love. She was asking me NOT to do. I didn’t know how NOT to do. But we planned a support meeting to talk about how, now that we were committed partners, we still needed the vast community to continue supporting her and us. She let everyone know that they should consider anything they did for any of us a support to her. The list of things this community of nearly 100 did for us included (for YEARS):

  • Dinners several times a week
  • Escorts to so many appointments; so, so many
  • Weekly promises of time with our children, even after we added a baby a few years in
  • Research
  • Financial help
  • Organizing all the help so that we had only one person to ask for everything
  • A list of supports way beyond the length of this article

I had never been comfortable being helped. That is the simple truth. And now I lived in a world in which people were doing things for me and my family, on the daily, that were BIG things. Over time, I noticed the way I deflected the help every time; “are you sure, don’t worry if you can’t, did I really need that thing anyway?” It was exhausting. I wish I could tell you that I quickly addressed this problem, but I did not. I had to get really, really, uncomfortable. But finally, I made a deal with myself and committed to it for an experiment for a year: Just say thank you. Nothing more. And say it sincerely!

That last part took a while to gel. The first few months those two words caused my stomach to flip, and it was a struggle to wrest them from my tight lips. My deep aversion to appearing needy meant I had no experience with a simple thank you! But then, what a surprise, it became more and more pleasurable to say thank you. And I meant it more and more. The biggest surprise was that all those people doing all those things for us got happier and happier! As it turned out, it was an even exchange; the gifts they gave were recompensed with gratitude. No debt owing.

By the time she finally died, years later, I could hardly remember that shy awkward person I had been. Our house was full of people that night who helped wash her body, lay her out in her splendid attire, bid the entire community come to say farewell. I had been changed by her, but also by a community of love formed by the human need for family, since so many of our community had been rejected by the families who brought them into this world.

My parents, who had found a way to love me for who I really am, also became a part of this community, contributing their part and at the same time witnessing all of us walking her home. My father, the American Baptist minister who later performed my wedding when I remarried, was the one man who helped anoint her body. After her death, my mother said, “I have been a part of loving church communities my whole life, but I have never seen a community as loving as yours.”

And so, yes, being a member of the LGBTQIA community has its losses, its pains, the oppressions that can be crushing. And, also, great challenge can transform, over time, to something we would never have expected; a love so deep it bores into the earth and carries our feet through anything.

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