|A collage I made while Rob underwent spinal surgery. (1.8.16)|
One of the last things I did with Rob while he was in the hospital was to paint. By then he had been moved to palliative care and the doctors needed to take him off of high flow oxygen in order for him to come home. His last request was to be able to come home to die. After spending 50 consecutive days in the hospital, he would come home two days later. But on that Monday morning, Rob was very worried about coming off of the high flow oxygen, because he feared he would become oxygen-deprived. No matter how much assurance the medical staff gave, he still was concerned. He needed to be off the machine as it could not be used in non-medical settings. On the day after Valentine's day the doctors removed the machine and oxygen delivered through a nasal cannula.
The nurse checked in on him and said she could get him a sedative since he was so nervous. After she left I remembered that a few weeks earlier I had put together a small art kit for him to use. I asked him if he wanted to do some painting, and he brightened, and said, yes. I took out the kit and he selected some water color pencils, brushes, and one of his notebooks and he painted. When the nurse checked in again, she saw what was happening and quietly left us alone.
|Rob painting while in Palliative Care. (2.15.16)|
We each painted for about an hour and during that time Rob could see that he was getting enough oxygen and began to relax. He completed the painting he titled, Freedom Sunrise.
|Freedom Sunrise (Rob's painting, 2.15.16)|
|Art I made using Rob's words and images.|
I have thought often about the title to the work and cannot remember if I asked him about it that day. I have forgotten so much. What I do remember is that later I would promise Rob that I would create art using his words and images and I did so a few weeks after he died.
Play has a way of helping us redirect energies and on that day while Rob calmed himself by getting lost in the paintings he was making, I took solace in watching Rob paint and the slight respite from the many tensions and worries that had become more the norm by mid February.
We were so us that morning. Just Rob and Mary Ann together in what we were each making--there on the page and also there in the room. We were wonderfully quiet that morning.
Love is so often about what gets made with others.
When I think about our marriage, I think of the Greeks. In an interview with Krista Tippet, contemporary philosopher, Alain de Botton says,
The Ancient Greeks had a view of love which was essentially based around education, that what love means — love is a benevolent process whereby two people try to teach each other how to become the best versions of themselves (from here).We did try to occasion in one another better versions of self and learned how to do this fairly well by the time Rob retired from public school teaching and we became work partners. I cherish those two years we worked side-by-side. Partners at home and at work. What a gift.
Love requires trust of other and self. It requires being wrong and saying so. It draws energy from humor and playfulness, and almost always--humility. Our relationship was as flawed as it was passionate, and across nearly three decades we took time to learn the many faces of being vulnerable. But early on, we were slow leaners, especially me. I am reminded how years ago when I was angry at Rob for something I no longer can remember, I had broken two Waterford wine glasses on the dining room table. I was starting on a third, when he asked me if I wanted him to put on a dress so I could talk more directly to my mother. It was a sobering moment and one that stays with me. We agreed later that night that we would have a safe word that when said meant the other was acting crazy. We promised to only say this word at such times. We practiced this until we no longer needed it. The break in the drama that these pauses allowed afforded us the time to name what hurt so much--what hurt so greatly that the only safe person in the world we could show such pain to was one another.
None of marriage is particularly easy and even less so when we became parents. But trust did emerge and take hold. Trust bloomed full.
Rob saw me though the deaths of both of my parents, as I did for him when his dad died. Love saw us comfort each other when we learned that the infant we expected to adopt in a matter of weeks was deemed no longer adoptable. His development revealed developed catastrophic disabilities and his life expectancy was reduced to mere months. The agency would not allow us to adopt him. This was a time of grief and we clung to one another. Love showered us with joy when two months later we opened our hearts again and this time we became parents to Devon.
It is these habits of love that helped us to become more courageous when feeling pain and joy, sorrow, and ambiguity. It is these habits of love that allowed us to remain committed to one another, to our marriage, and of course--to our son. About ten years ago at the wedding of two friends, the groom surprised us and made a toast, saying that he learned what a good marriage is by watching us. We worked hard.
Since Rob died, I think about our marriage. Now and then I recall a time when my better self was off on holiday. It's painful to recall these times. I wish I could have been better, kinder, and certainly--more patient. I wish now that I could have been the better wife, the better lover, the better partner. There are moments when I recall something spiteful or careless that I said to Rob--and I want to erase those moments and be able to say that I never caused him a moment of uncertainty or pain or sorrow. But I know that I did all three and did so more than once.
But what I learned with my husband is that love requires no penance. It is more grace than forgiveness, more steady hand than flux. Rob did not need more from me than what I gave him and the truth is that what we each gave was more than enough.
All those years ago on a snowy and cold December morning in the front parlor of Dave's home in Vermont when we each uttered that first pledge of love what we did not know, could not know then was that we were saying that in spite of and perhaps--because we were each so flawed, we would love one another without excuses. We would love the flawed person we were. And we did. Accepting self and other as imperfect was the very first step in composing better versions of ourselves.