One or two weeks after his death, I could only picture my partner's dead body, not his living body. I had let go of his body, but not who he used to be before diagnosis day. June 27, two weeks after his birthday, one week after Father's Day. While my older two children were in school and my wee one slept on my back in a carrier, I watched the four short videos my partner had made. In these videos he addresses his children about his medical condition. Day one was diagnosis day, one of our longest days. In each successive video, the viewer sees his color change, his increasing thinness, and the devastation of a life murdered by cancer. He detailed for his children the steps he was taking, the research being done by specialists all over the country, talking about the kindness of strangers, and how his children gave him the strength to go through anything necessary to survive. My beloved fought to the very end of his life to stay here with his children. He wanted to be here to raise them, to comfort them, to support them. I had a good long cry after watching these medical videos. They helped me to reconnect to the man I knew, even if it was when he was fighting for his life.
After three weeks of fully saying goodbye to my partner's body, arranging and speaking at his memorial service, saying goodbye to so many visitors, and visiting his photograph and ashes in our prayer room each day, I was struck by realizing the only partner I recalled was the one who had lost weight from his cancer-defying diet. (Between rounds of chemotherapy, we took professional photographs that now represent him in our prayer room.) He lost 15 pounds on the ketogenic diet, one more way he put everything he had into making it through cancer to raise his children. That slimmer man was the only one I could remember. For a few days I experienced the devastation of not being able to remember my old sweetheart with his beautiful rounded cheeks, the playful man with the irritatingly playful jokes, the one who courted me on the dancefloor.
To pull the memories of my whole and healthy beloved back to me, I pulled out his boyhood photos. We have his framed photos from his mother's collection: first grade, third grade, and fifth grade. He is my boy. I love him like a son, like a husband, like a best friend. That is the soul I love. That is my man. Now I can finally remember him in his healthy splendor again. As I remember him in his healthy, busy days, I understand and grief the enormous loss our family has experienced, the loss of this amazing, beautiful, generous man. He was a modern day hero to many, even with his various human details. (I could go on for years about how he helped make our world a better place and how he pushed my many buttons with his wit and high expectations.)
I woke up at 3:00 this morning, as it is a snow day and we get to sleep in. I woke to think today is the day to watch our wedding video for the first time ever. I don't know what I'll find there, past a good cleansing cry, but I hope I am able to see the man I was privileged to marry and grow with. This is the man I choose to remember. This is the man I choose to share with my children. And sadly, this is the man I also choose to let go. Grief is an odd place where we hold on and let go at the same time. I choose to step fully into my life as the mother of these extraordinary children. I choose to release all that holds me down in the density of death. I choose to be joyful and present and healthy for my children. I choose life. I choose to hold onto the man I love, and also to let him go. What a fine balance. I remember. I remember it all. I choose to focus upon what feels good: my best friend as a whole, healthy, determined, loving husband, father, son, uncle, friend, mentor, and brother. What a privilege it is to have loved and lost (better than to never have loved at all), to know such depth of being, to have grown in these infinite ways, to have grown roots and wings, to get to raise these incredible young people in these intense times, to know that the sun continues to rise, the seasons come and go, and the heart continues to expand and overflow. I choose to remember. Everything. Exhale.