Are you sure you mean it?
I was chatting with my friend and fellow Medium writer Ann Litts last night, right after she wrote this piece. She told me the situation had reminded her of me and the love I had for my late wife, as I’ve written about before.
As these kinds of conversations often do, it led me into a place of quiet reflection. And another sleepless night.
Hi, I’m Dick and I fall in love too fast, too deep and I give way too much. Or, at least I once did.
The person I love has always come first. My family has always been next in line. Only after I was certain they were all getting what I thought they needed did I look after my own interests. I’m certain some of those people would argue the point, but remember I clearly stated: “what I thought they needed”. I’m sure I was wrong, on many occasions. That doesn’t negate the fact that I was doing what I thought was the “right thing”.
I turned down promotions. I often took unnecessary risks to get home late at night instead of staying over in a hotel. All because my family meant more to me than any career. And, as most ambitious women have known for decades, putting your family first doesn’t bode well for advancement opportunities in business. It cost me. I martyred myself in many ways. But I really don’t regret any of that at all. At least not when it comes to “career” aspirations. I’ve never seen what I did for money as much more than a job.
The lesson I needed to learn came when my wife was dying. When she left the choice of her or the family’s future in my lap. ALS was stealing her breath away, slowly and inexorably suffocating her. There was the option of going on a vent. Extending her life for an indefinite period of time. And she wanted that. She wanted more than anything to see her children grow up, make their way in the world and have her grandchildren. I think you can probably see where this is going.
I contacted her doctor and requested information about the procedure. I asked about follow-up care. I learned that committing to this course of action would likely cost in the neighborhood of $30,000 per month. For as long as she lived. Insurance would cover it. But this was ten years ago. My insurance had a lifetime cap of one million dollars. We’d already gone through something on the order of a hundred thousand and there really was no hope for a cure on the horizon. Even the doctor recommended against going down this road.
I loved my wife. And I love my kids. But here I was, having to decide between keeping my wife alive and being able to provide some sort of future for my four kids. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make the decision. I told her I would do whatever she wanted but that she would have to make the decision herself. And as a mother, she couldn’t do it either.
I often struggle with this memory. Did I take the coward’s way out by forcing her to choose? Or did I actually choose myself and my kids over her? Was it fair of her to even ask such a thing of me? I don’t have quite the same tenacious grip on life that my wife possessed. If I had been faced with the same decision for myself, it would have been easy for me to choose her and the kids. But I think I knew that I was making her decide, almost certainly against her greatest hope. And in that moment, I didn’t feel like the husband I had always believed myself to be. I felt defeated. By something out of both of our hands. I think, in retrospect, that’s the very moment I realized that any sense of control we believe ourselves to have is fleeting and illusory.
In the grand scheme of things, I believe we’re just along for the ride. And depending on your belief system, fate, the gods, God or even random chance will always have the last word. We’re asked only to choose love. But even that choice can rip us apart if the circumstances are just so. I wouldn’t wish the circumstances we found ourselves in on anyone. But I’ve come to believe that it was the price extracted for the opportunity to love so completely.
Or maybe I’m just a romantic old fool.
Thank you for your time.