Yesterday I received a call from a friend in search of love advice. My friend was wondering how you know if the challenges in an otherwise good relationship are red flags, or if they're just normal stuff that can be worked out. I advised this friend to take a step back and first answer a few important questions: What do you want from relationships in general? Do you want to be in a long-term relationship? Do you want, someday, to build your own family?
Partnership is not simply long-term dating. It's a different thing, a bond that lives at the nexus of romance, friendship, and family. If it's done right, the strength of all three, and indeed of every variety of relation that can be created and cultivated - erotic, collaborative, advisory, artistic, collegial, intellectual - all grow indefinitely.
Well. Until death.
Inevitable. Mercurial. Sometimes reluctant. Often merciful. At times unfathomably cruel. Death.
My mother's partner died ten years ago today. They were never married. In fact, the idea that gay marriage would be legal in Texas by 2015 was pretty much unthinkable when they got together, back in the late 1980s. Nonetheless, the period of time leading up to Doreen's death, when Mom and I held vigil over her hospital bed in our living room, helped me understand what commitment means and what it is worth, why partnership and union and the joining of lives in adulthood are all so important.
I have a lot of love in my life. I am extremely lucky. I miss Doreen very much, and I wish she could've known me and my chosen family better in my adulthood. She was very young, not quite 44 years old when she died. We needed so much more time.
Yesterday, Patton Oswalt, a person I care about and respect immensely but have interacted with only via social media, lost his wife, the writer Michelle McNamara. From all accounts, her passing was very sudden. Patton is the kind of person who routinely pens pitch-perfect reactions to events in damn near real-time, even as they happen, from hilarious jokes to eloquent articulations of outrage to poignant tributes. He's as smart as he is sensitive. My whole heart goes out to him. I wish, in the wake of this awful tragedy, that I had gifts like his to offer.
Grief is literally crazy-making. You hear voices, see things, lose your mind a bit. Those effects last longer than you might expect, especially given the three meager days of bereavement "leave" most workplaces offer. It's awful.
And, while I don't have too many core beliefs, I know this thing for sure:
Love is worth it.
Love is worth the pain of loss. Love is bigger and love lasts longer than even the worst agony and heartbreak of death. Grief changes us, shapes us, pokes holes in us that never really get filled up again. But we would be nothing at all without love.
It's been an intense week. Prince is one of those people who I knew meant a lot to me but had no idea quite how much until he was suddenly gone, also far too young. Michelle McNamara's intense curiosity and keen intellect made her True Crime Diary project so compelling. She, too, had so much more art in her, so much more to tell us, so many more stones to turn and truths to reveal.
Today, where I sit, the sun is shining. Palm trees shimmer and whisper in the wind. My husband is on his way home from a week of backpacking, and my mother is off gallivanting around America on a road trip, celebrating her retirement and her pending relocation to Southern California. Our family is smaller than it should be. But we are happy, well, optimistic.
I remain very, very grateful for love, including all the love that still lives within me for the people I've known who have died. And I get to keep that love, to savor it, for my whole entire lucky life.