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Emails to my Therapist

Medical Emergency: Aftershocks for (me) the Spouse

(Email to therapist)    Nicholas — So many surprises for me since Bob woke up from his near-death crisis in heart surgery. The cardiac medical emergency itself was the first and largest surprise, of course.  And then came:

1. The honeymoon-ish change in our marriage

2. My certainty that all medical problems are solved and he will live forever

3. My realization that he won’t live forever

4. And, not so surprising, given my characteristic weakness: if he dies before me, it will be my fault.

First, the marriage.

While I was lying on a couch in the waiting room during his 7 + hours in surgery, I said to myself, “This is a turning point.” I was thinking about Bob’s long-running increasing irritability, which seemed to me to have taken over weeknights. And, about my response to that: zoning out at the first sign of his grumpiness. As you may know, I am good at vanishing into my interior, while continuing to chat. What I thought to myself in the waiting room was: my zoning out is also a way of losing him, losing hours and evenings truly together, so I am now putting an end to the vanishing act.

I told him this a few days after the surgery, when we were walking the hospital hall, getting his required exercise, while still pushing his chest-high walker. What I said didn’t seem to make much of an impression at the time; certainly he had a few more immediate things on his mind.

A couple of days after we got home, he initiated a conversation: about a troubling distance between us. That turned out to be the big-deal conversation.  In short, we’ve now dealt with his shortness with me when he’s exhausted and my zoning out when I’m displeased. The result is: we seem to be in a new era that feels better than honey-moonish to me. It feels like an understanding and a wonderful  outcome we’ve both earned.  {Bob says he’d like to think he came across to me as increasingly irritable/grumpy as a function of his then-unknown physical problem.}

The certainty of immortality

When Bob regained consciousness  —  after the surgeon had warned me that he might not — a sort of magic developed.  With the happy resolution of the medical emergency, the problem of death was gone.  (Much like when I first dealt with the issue of aging at 38: I had a gut feeling then that I’d faced aging and come to terms with it, therefore there would be no more of it.) The recent immortal period lasted a few days shy of two months.

The certainty of mortality

Bob got a bad cold. Then he got an online report from a CAT scan that was mostly incomprehensible to us non-physicians and a little worrying given what we thought we understood.  We went to Bob’s regular doctor for a translation.  My translation of the doc’s translation: the report’s 90-some percent good and if there’s a little glitch, it would be expected to take care of itself, and if anything was really bad, Bob would have been summoned back to the hospital in a big hurry, so: Don’t worry!

I’m not worrying. Instead, I’ve recalled that solving one big problem doesn’t prevent all future problems. Too bad.

“My Bad”

For much of my life, I’ve dealt with arguments by zoning out and with risks by foolishly, irrationally believing that I’m in control.  As a result, I don’t fear much other than my own failure of competence. Under the tyranny of that absurd belief: if Bob dies before me, it’ll be because I didn’t do enough of the right things well enough. In recent years, I’ve been able most days to bury that belief, but I know it still operates from underground.

Now I’m thinking I gotta get rid of it. (Bob, shifting into his professional mode as a psychologist, says maybe I could be aware of the belief and minimize its influence.) I want to be rid of it. On the other hand, it might be pretty disturbing to fully realize how much I don’t control.



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  • February 10, 2017 at 9:44 pm Reply

    It is always disturbing to discover how little we control.

    I saw the movie ” Lion” today. I think you’d like it very much.

    • Peggy Payne
      February 10, 2017 at 9:47 pm Reply

      I do mean to see it, Judy. Looks like Dev Patel is terrific in it. And, yes, disturbing.

  • February 10, 2017 at 10:07 pm Reply

    Better to feel “bad” and like a failure than to acknowledge helplessness and mortality? I get it.

    So glad it was nothing serious.

    • Peggy Payne
      February 10, 2017 at 10:16 pm Reply

      Thanks, Joe. And fighting off mortality, one does get a lot done, yes?

  • February 10, 2017 at 10:09 pm Reply

    Love this and want to say that realizing how much we don’t have control can also be freeing! And Lion is astoundingly good.

    • Peggy Payne
      February 10, 2017 at 10:15 pm Reply

      I look forward to both Lion and this new freedom, Billie!

  • Amey Miller
    February 11, 2017 at 1:06 am Reply

    LOL about how much we don’t control. I copied and pasted it into a file on my desktop, which is titled “Peggy control.” Thanks alot for this continued journey. Amey

    • Peggy Payne
      February 11, 2017 at 2:12 am Reply

      Glad you can LOL about this, Amey. I’m flattered you saved it.

  • Ron Perkinson
    February 11, 2017 at 2:01 am Reply

    My goal is to live forever, and so far it’s working.”
    Stephen Wright
    From a personal perspective, one of my great disappointments last year was surviving a potentially fatal situation and realizing that death had been postponed and not avoided. But I did , and do, find the experience liberating in the sense that the contemplation of my own mortality is more of a mental exercise now instead of the overwhelming concepts of dread and uncertainty as was the case. Curious to know if Bob has the same or similar reaction.

    • Peggy Payne
      February 11, 2017 at 2:11 am Reply

      “…Postponed and not avoided” sums it up perturbingly well, Ron. Bob says he’ll comment in answer to your question.

  • Anne Russell
    February 15, 2017 at 10:05 pm Reply

    I’m using this quote from Christopher Dickey re his father James Dickey as epigraph for my memoir-in-progress: “Patience, forbearance, and forgiveness are the price of love within a family.”

    • Peggy Payne
      February 16, 2017 at 2:52 am Reply

      Very wise counsel, Anne. Nice to see you here also; I greatly enjoy your beach pictures on Facebook.

  • March 1, 2017 at 2:29 pm Reply

    Love and compassion are all important.

  • Jessica Mollet
    March 3, 2017 at 1:47 pm Reply

    I’m so glad Bob is doing better. He is such a dear person and is a light in the world. So glad you both have more time together. Please send him my best wishes.

    • Peggy Payne
      March 6, 2017 at 4:26 am Reply

      Thanks, Jessica. He hopes you’re well and happy and wants to know when you start teaching yoga again.

  • Robert Braxton
    March 8, 2017 at 2:27 pm Reply

    After having read (some time ago) Sister India, I can imagine you could pack quite quickly (to go to Isle of Iona). The program week there is Sunday (afternoon) through Friday, leaving early Saturday. Spouse and I did this 1994 and again some years later. She made her own trip with church members one time in between.

    • Peggy Payne
      March 8, 2017 at 3:55 pm Reply

      Thanks, Bob. Iona’s now on my most serious list.

  • […] wish we could have had the deathbed talk and then more time with him, as has happened with Mom and Bob. The death of a friend is […]

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