When He Who Is In Personal Crisis was a child, he lost his father to cancer. He was at that age that psychologists say is "critical", in that he was old enough to know what was going on but not old enough to understand it. He remembers, therefore, one of the last times he saw his dad, with his mom standing at the hospital room door. His dad was at the very end, and he couldn't say much, so He Who Is In Personal Crisis crawled up on the bed with him, hugged him and said the last thing he would ever say to him: "Don't worry, I like you more than I like Mom."
As he told me this story out of the blue, over dinner at an Italian restaurant roughly two years ago, I sobbed openly at our table. The statement is funny, yes; but I thought of him as a child, so scared and confused and sad, and I could hardly control myself. I thought of the emotional and psychological scars that that experience had left on him, and what a tragedy it is that he has left only a handful of what must be painful memories of the man he loved more than anyone or anything in the world. I thought of the effects his father's death still has on him and the fact that he chose to share his last memory of his dad with me only after we'd known each other six years. I cried that he still hurts so deeply. And I cursed the fact that life isn't fair.
In the summer of 2003, He Who Is In Personal Crisis' mother was diagnosed with cancer as well. This coincided with the beginning of our relationship, and I was only vaguely aware that he was being rocked by another crisis. Once while we were on the phone he hung up abruptly and didn't call for days. And I didn't understand it. It wasn't until weeks later that he told me he had walked into the house while on the phone with me and seen his mother for the first time without any hair. It was the first visual confirmation he had that she, too, was really sick.
This summer her cancer took a turn for the worst. And, again, so did our relationship. The woman who's successfully fought against the disease that has riddled her body for eight years has all but lost that battle. And this has profoundly changed He Who Is In Personal Crisis. Because when he was a child and he lost his father, he was too young to fully comprehend what this would mean for him. The effects of that childhood trauma remain. But at 31, he is all too aware of how this will affect him. What it means that she has gone on Hospice. Because he's the one who's holding her hand, administering her care, taking care of her financial and legal affairs, and staying by her side every moment he can. It's been an excruciating journey for the both of them. And I'm proud of how they're handling what is an immensely painful situation, particularly given that 25 years ago she lost her husband and he lost his dad in a similar fashion. But I hate that they've had to deal with it.
That's why I haven't left him, even when he's said that's what he's wanted: this is likely to be the very lowest point of his life, and we haven't been through all that we've been through for me to leave him at this juncture. To do so would be unconscionable. This isn't a normal ordeal, and I can't possibly treat it like it is. But that doesn't mean that it's always easy, because he's actively grieving, and grief isn't pretty. Sometimes I think too much about what I'm going through in the midst of this rather than what he is. What she is. What it must be like. And while I think it's human for me to feel that way, I'm also pretty deeply embarrassed by it.
This morning, however, on my way into the office I passed a throng of walkers affiliated with the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk for the Cure, and suddenly this event wasn't a nice idea in theory: it was personal to me. He Who Is In Personal Crisis' mother -- who I drank peppermint hot chocolate with last Christmas -- has ovarian cancer, but the message is the same: cancer is a violent, merciless killer, and we have to do something about it. I teared up at first, seeing all the women in their pink. But then I saw a man pushing an empty wheelchair on which a woman's named was inscribed, and that is when I suddenly and overwhelmingly lost it. I sobbed so violently that I had to sit down on the side of the street, my head in my hands. And I sobbed so long that I finally had to call my mother and have her calm me down before I could even finish my walk into the office.
I thought of the fact that there will be no parent for him to come home to for the holidays for the rest of his life. I thought of one of the decisions he has to make: to sell or keep his childhood home so far away. I imagined him pushing around an empty wheelchair. And I couldn't get past the knowledge that his heart is broken in so many places that it will never be the same again. Because it's never going to be okay that this is happening to either of them. It just isn't. And there is absolutely nothing any of us can do about it. My heart breaks for him.
When He Who Is In Personal Crisis told me that story two years ago -- about the last thing he said to his father, he said this: "My mom was standing at the door, so she might have heard me, but I didn't care. I meant it." It's clear that he wouldn't say that today. Because now she is the most important person in his world, and he's about to lose the most important person to him yet again.