It’s Your Turn

Death stops by for a chat

Photo by Marco De Waal on Unsplash

She stood in the doorway in that dismissive way a teenage girl stands when she’s feeling put upon. Clearly, she had better things to do and he was just an inconvenient obligation she had to address before she could get on with the important matters of the day. Still, she was nearly transparent. When she looked up and met his eyes, his blood ran cold. For here was Death herself. Not carrying a scythe. Not dressed in black. Nope, not this time. Today, she was just a pretty teenage girl. Albeit, one you literally see through. Not exactly what one would expect to see at the moment oblivion comes calling. No one would ever suspect she held the power of eternity in her hands. That is, until they looked in her eyes. There was no mistaking her identity when those bottomless black orbs caught your gaze.

“Relax”, she said, “someone very important to you asked me to stop by and remind you. You made a promise. And you’re dragging your feet. Time’s a wasting old man. Don’t make me come back here. You know she won’t be happy if you blow it again this time.”

He was just about to say something when she interrupted him. “No excuses” she said, “You have had ten years to grieve. She sent along just about every kind of human being you could possibly need to learn the difference between what the two of you had and what everyone else thinks is love. You know this, deep down. Accept it. And do what you promised to do.”

“But the kids…..”, he said. “Will be fine” she countered. “How many times have they themselves told you that? You’re just scared.” And he knew, to his very core, that Death was right. He’d set an intention in motion two and half years ago. He’d retire, somehow make the finances work and go have that adventure he had always dreamed about. The very one he described to his wife just months before she passed away. It wasn’t just a dream. It was a promise he’d made to be more than an empty husk of a man after all she had suffered.

It certainly seemed like every cause for concern was magically removed whenever he came up with another reason to hold back. The job was outsourced a month before he was planning to retire. It put him in an even better financial situation. Every obstacle just seemed to evaporate, almost as soon as he thought of it. For someone who couldn’t seem to stop worrying about what could go wrong, everything always worked out in his favor. And he knew, it was because of her. It was the gift she gave him in return for a promise that had been made and must be kept.

Something flickered at the corner of his eye. He turned to look. In the mirror on the wall, a flash of black wing and the shiny edge of a sharpened blade passed through his field of view. When he turned back she was gone. A waft of burnt cookies caressed his nose and the unspoken words kissed his soul, “Don’t let her down, you promised her you wouldn’t waste the time she gave you.”

The Greatest Gift

Is one we give to ourselves

I was chatting with an old friend today. A comrade in arms, so to speak, on the long road to widowhood I made over ten years ago. That trip was a painful, soul searing life tragedy I’m sure I’ll never completely reconcile emotionally. We shared the process because her husband was dying of the same disease at almost the same time as my wife.

The conversation led down some paths of reflection that I hadn’t sat with in a long time. Those days were difficult. A million things to do. But what I most remembered was the overwhelming sense of abandonment I experienced. I hadn’t examined those feelings because I let them all go a long time ago.

People fail us, when we most need them. Friends don’t show up to help when their presence would lift worlds from our shoulders. Family members just go on living their lives as if nothing is wrong.
We have expectations of the people in our lives. Expectations that they will be there when we need them. That they will love us as we love them. That they will hear us when we call out in the darkness. And yet they fail us. Over and over again.

But guess what? We fail them too. Because the things we need from other people are tied to our own perceptions. Even when we give what we most think someone needs, we often fail.

The measure of a person isn’t if they’re there when needed. Sometimes you will be and sometimes you won’t. You’ll often fail to provide that which is most needed in the moment even when you think you’re giving your all. Unless you’re just an asshole, you’re likely to try to help those you love as often as you can. But you’re still going to fail. Often.

The measure of a person is displayed in their ability to forgive. When others fail them. And when they fail others. To be able to accept the imperfections of all the people in our lives. To overlook the perceived slights and misunderstandings. To accept that we’re all weak in some ways and unable to give even when the demand is great.



Some things you don’t so much get over as you just sort of move beyond. The death of a loved one. The ending of what you thought was going to be forever. Life will never be quite the same. Hanging on to the failures you experience in life, whether those of a loved one, or your own, is a zero sum game. No one benefits and everyone stands to lose that most precious of all possessions — love. We’re here for a remarkably short ride and you never really know what pain other people are bearing. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Forgiveness. We may forgive other people but the release is ours to celebrate.

Oh, to be loved like that!

Are you sure you mean it?

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Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

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.