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Measuring Never

by | May 5, 2022

Susan died peacefully early Friday morning. Our daughters arrived Friday about noon. We feel that Susan wanted to die before they arrived so she could protect them one last time. Regardless of the timing, we will never see Susan alive. The reality of never seeing her has not sunk in yet.

I have been grappling with the term “never” as in never see Susan again. Over the years, I have contemplated infinitely large numbers – the number of cells in a human body, the number of water molecules in our cells, etc. For the first time, I must contend with the scale of never. At first, the term never seems to be infinitely small. Since Susan’s death, I discovered that never is a huge number. Let me offer some examples to help you relate to our new reality of never seeing Susan. Once you lose your virginity, you will never get it back. However, this type of never is far removed from the aching version experience by loved ones left behind. By never getting your virginity back, hopefully you gained from the positive aspects of sex. I start with this simplistic example to eliminate experiences of never that don’t seem so bad.

For a more realistic example, picture yourself being dropped from a plane in the middle of the ocean far, far away from any land. After the initial shock, you will soon realize that you will never see land again. You will never see your family or friends again. You can start swimming, but what’s the point? However this form of never is not quite right either because you carry hope of rescue. Maybe a boat or plane will see you! When a loved one dies, your brain carries hope that the deceased will return home just like they always did, but they won’t. Never means there is no hope of seeing them in person again. The absolute certainty generated by a person’s death is beyond my contrived scenario of never reaching land.

Susan and I had a storybook life together. I fell in love with her first and convinced her to reciprocate. Our love was intense and it grew each year. A couple weeks before she died, Susan reiterated that she would be willing to die of cancer all over again as long as we would meet and fall in love again. The last day she spoke, she said that we have been extremely fortunate, and I agreed. I am 60 years old and my father is 94. If I live to the same age, I will live another 34 years. Susan and I were married for 33 years and 10 months. By living to the age of 94, I will live as long without Susan as we were married. Damn, that’s a long time. Unlike my ocean example, I cannot carry hope of seeing her in person again, though my brain falsely keeps hope alive. Our time together was so rich and full of life that I am challenged to imagine duplicating 34 years without Susan. Unlike virginity, the tradeoff of never seeing Susan again cannot provide a good alternative.

Over the past 7.5 months, I have learned from my fellow survivors and caretakers that the pain of never fades with time. But I have also learned that healing is a process filled of sorrow, anger, grief, loneliness, etc. I will adapt to feed myself healthy food, and I will seek out camaraderie to fill the time spaces scattered throughout my days, weeks and months. But no matter what, I will never see Susan in person again. Sigh.

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