I’m not sure when I stopped missing my husband. I suppose familiarity crept in after 7 years together and I rarely felt the pining, agitated pain of separation that I relished in the early days of our passionate love.
Running our restaurant from waking to sleep, 6 days a week meant that we were rarely apart. So JP had become as familiar to me as my 4 limbs, an essential part of my body that I neither missed nor noticed as long as it was executing its functions.
At first I congratulated myself for reaching this mature phase of our relationship, free from the giddying peaks and troughs of new love. I appreciated the emotional equilibrium and the predictable dialogue we exchanged distractedly during our busy days. But a quiet, niggling part of my mind started to suggest that something bad would germinate from the economy of attention I gave to JP and our marriage. While there was truth in this, I didn’t enact change because I thought the worst thing would be separation, unlikely to happen because we were happy and I still loved him deeply albeit passively. Looking back I believe this voice was warning of the days to come and so it was that we were deafened 3 years later by the ferocious howl of a brain tumor.
Glioblastoma multiforme is an impressive tumor. Its microscopic cells infiltrate the tiny pathways between the brain matter and despite 20 hour surgeries to remove visible cells, they hide, escape and grow back to kill their victims eventually. The oncologist didn’t say terminal during our first consultation but I wish he had, it would have placed boundaries on my fervant optimism.
Ironically, that tumor propelled my stagnating love to heights I’m certain I couldn’t have reached without it, instantly curing my emotional lethargy. The fear of losing JP produced raw vulnerability, as fearsome a monster as the tumor, exposing every moment to interrogation by stark emotional reality. I ached with pity for JP’s suffering and clung to every moment that time wrenched out of our grasp. I fixated on finding positive outcomes, I wanted cures, treatments and reassurances. JP’s disappearing future elevated every desire beyond the realms of normal longing into tortured helplessness and if I had coalesced the complex maze of outcomes and answers I was chasing into one unifying desire, it was that I wanted more time.
Before the tumor I didn’t know what to do with nor did I contemplate the time I assumed we had. There was just endless time with no urgency to respect or cherish it. The tumor changed this, eliciting panic and anxiety but also heightened commitment and attentiveness. It dropped a steady anchor that pulled me back to the present to breathe in JP’s existence and save it up to sustain me for the rest of my life.
Shrinking time transformed my marriage and even though JP passed away, I can’t be angry or saddened that the results weren’t different. Because he left, I couldn’t fall back into a state of indifference. I will always miss and long for him. The memory of our intense love during those last few years is never tainted nor satiated so it is preserved and alive in me.
I keep vigilant however to escape the trap of longing for outcomes and guarantees because I want to embrace longing without the outcome. I’ve made friends with unpredictability and I’m at peace with missing JP. I don’t want that longing to go away even though it hurts. I’ve learned that in loving this longing a thousand futures revealing a million opportunities beckon and all can be embraced reverently because the aim is not to fulfill any of them but to experience the journey on which you travel to discover their end.
Missing JP is exquisitely painful, but as I continue to endure it’s solemn power it reveals gleaming sparks of ecstatic spiritual longing that lead to transcendence and in such moments, I taste in longing, the essence of God.
Taruni Tan is a music therapist.
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