I think it’s safe to say that love has its ups and downs. Let’s be honest, it can’t always be candy and roses. Often, it’s diapers and strollers, yard work and dry-cleaning, or even catheters and wheelchairs. Friendships, romances, relationships – they all take work. Even if you’re the perfect couple, such as Dan and me (if I do say so myself), maintaining a solid relationship takes effort, it takes nurturing.
A successful relationship, I believe, is built largely on:
1) A mutual respect for one another.
3) And a willingness to make sacrifices on behalf of the other.
The first two seem quite logical to me. Who would choose a partner they don’t like or respect? But the third one, that bit about making sacrifices? I’m not so sure I was as prepared for that one when I said “I do.” But successful relationships take sacrifice. And making sacrifices takes humility. It takes washing down that big old pill called Pride with a full glass of water. And that’s tough. We all know that love is patient and love is kind. But I recently learned first-hand that love is truly humble.
On April 25th, 2014, I received a phone call that I always dreaded, yet never expected. I nervously answered the phone and listened to our beloved doctor on the other end of the line tell me that she found leukemia in my husband’s blood. I listened to her say that in approximately two-to-four weeks those leukemia cells would multiply ferociously and overtake Dan’s bloodstream. I asked her a question to which I already knew the answer. I processed her grim response. Dan was dying.
Because I was at work, I had to keep the news to myself until I could deliver it to him more than an hour later, face to face in his hospital bed. With tears in my eyes, I told my husband he was dying. I told him I was sorry and that I loved him. Sort of blankly, probably numb with shock, he said, “Are you serious? I’m dying? I’m seriously dying?” And then he cried. With tears filling his crystal blue eyes, he said, “I love you. I’m sorry, sweetie. But it’s okay. I’m okay. Promise me you’ll be okay, too.”
“I promise,” I whispered.
I recently started back to work after three months of bereavement with family and friends. I packed my lunch and picked out my outfit the night before my first day, set my alarm, then lay in bed, anticipating my first-day jitters. Groggy and anxious, I left my empty apartment the next morning and drove myself to the school that I hadn’t seen since April, I walked to the room where I received a horrible phone call, and then I sat down in the chair where I heard a devastating prognosis. But I was okay.
In those days leading up to my first day, in the hours before, the minutes until I set foot in that building, I was not okay. Nothing was okay. My mind raced with negative thoughts – Dan is gone – I’m alone – I have no one and nothing to go home to – I’m empty. I was overcome with crippling sadness and debilitating anxiety. I cried. I wept. I shook. But I knew that when Monday came, I had no choice but to go to work, to move on, in a way. And I needed something to give me the strength to do it.
So, I reminded myself of Dan’s humble words again. “I’m okay. Promise me you’ll be okay, too.” I rallied my “All will be well” mojo and stepped into my school with clear eyes and a full heart. Dan’s love filled me, and I was okay.
If Dan could be “okay” with dying, how could I not be okay living this life he loved so deeply? Dan loved so much that, even in death, he focused on others. He didn’t choose to die, but when death was imminent, when he had no choice, he was selfless; he was genuinely humble in the absolute truest sense of the word. He didn’t ask for pity, as many, rightfully, do (and deserve!). He didn’t push us away or shield himself, or us, from the emotions he felt in his profoundly vulnerable state. He let us in. And for that I am eternally grateful.
Love isn’t just long walks on the beach and date nights. It isn’t simply the Game Show Network and Pizza Fridays. Love can’t always be white picket fences and bouncing babies. Love is humble. Loving Dan is equally the easiest and hardest thing I’ve ever done. Dan died nearly three weeks to the day from our conversation in his hospital room. In three short weeks, he taught me a lesson in love that I will carry with me forever. In those three dreadfully short weeks of hospice, he humbly accepted his fate and showed us it was “okay.”
Next time you find loving someone to be difficult, remember that, humbly loving them anyway is how you grow. The next time you feel like working at love is too hard, remind yourself that it’s worth it. Life is precious. Our time living it is limited. Spend it loving. Live it humbly. Live it for others.
Let love in. It never fails.