“Hands off the popcorn,” I urgently declared.
It was a favorite joke between us. “Hands off the popcorn” meant I was done for the day. No more taking kids to school, extra-curricular activities, dinner, the inevitable long process of putting our toddler to bed; her demands for one more glass of water, one more book, one more song. Making sure the teenager came home on time and did her homework. And always in the background, what it took to live with Joanne’s illness, her slowly deteriorating body.
Most days, we were joyful in a way I’d never experienced. She had insisted we wouldn’t do this alone and I had become accustomed over time to the steady stream of helpers. I had learned to say “thank you” instead of “are you sure you have time?” Somehow, without my even realizing it, I had learned to take care of myself, to answer the call for time or rest or just a simple five-minute break. I had learned to stay up to date with me.
But not on popcorn days. Those were the days someone cancelled, or a child was sick, or I hadn’t slept well. And, in her wisdom (or maybe simply her endless love for me) she didn’t take it personally; she simply smiled that knowing smile and waited for me to do whatever it was I needed to do until I was ready to carry on again with the rich and lovely life we’d created out of the rubble of her broken bones.
She reached out a hand, playfully feigning a steal of the kernels, poised above my bowl. She lingered over a particularly buttery bite, and I shooed her hand away, her fingers flies buzzing around my treat. I was going to eat the entire bowl. Myself. I was not going to share. And I was going to enjoy Every. Single. Morsel. Even if I was full.
Right from the start she set the stage for me to discover what it felt like when I needed a “selfish” moment. “You’re not doing it all yourself. I need you to be my lover, my beloved. If you are busy doing everything you won’t have the time or energy for that. And you’re the only one who can do that!”
I finished the last bite of popcorn, savoring the taste on my tongue. As we prepared to sleep, to start fresh the next day, that bowl of popcorn had been just what I needed. I had been my own priority, however briefly, and I felt better for it.
I reached over and took Joanne in my arms, ready to be generous with a goodnight hug and kiss. She answered my invitation with an enveloping set of arms taking me in, open to whatever I had to give. When I answered the deep call for my own attention, I had so much more to give!
Cheryl Espinosa Jones (CA MFT#27876) is a grief counselor, educator, writer, and the host of Good Grief, a weekly radio show investigating loss, grief, and transformation. Her novel, An Ocean Between Them, describes a mother-daughter relationship struggling to heal after a cancer diagnosis. The heart of Cheryl’s work stems from the 10 years she supported her wife while she lived with cancer and Cheryl’s immersion into her own grief after her wife’s death, surprised by frequent moments of joy.