Living on the razor’s edge of life and death, my living on without him, his dying in my arms on September 10, 2016, for eleven months was exhausting. And enlivening. It focused our priorities in a newly urgent way. We said, “I love you,” multiple times every day against the day one of us would not have ears to hear the words. Fear of failing lost its grip on me because fear of death was so much bigger and more immediate. So I spoke at three events and sang cabaret on four stages, and David finished his book and last commission.
I notice myself sanitizing his memory, like I was married to a saint. I assure you, neither my beloved nor I was one. David Beynon Pena fought to keep his autonomy, stay as active and keep working as long as possible. Always agile, he fell sometimes just walking across a tennis court. He went to work at the theater even on days when he had thrown up five times before going in from the chemo.
For my part, I struggled to see him as whole, not broken. I sought to find the balance between helping David do things like tape down a drop cloth at a wedding event and making him feel less because he needed some help. And sometimes, he snarled at me for it and I cried.
We had a good marriage but, in the crucible of the cancer, the fractures of our discontent rose too. Dave was working more and more all the time on commissions, wedding events and at the theater, six nights a week. I was feeling neglected and resentful, especially of David’s theater job, which ensured we seldom traveled for pleasure. I missed the hot chemistry of our early days and we never had time, it seemed for the rekindling of passion in rushing about, getting life done.
I think sometimes about What If David lived. I look beside me in bed even now with a visceral memory of his stomach so sunken that I could almost see his spine, watching to make sure there was still breath in him. I can’t imagine that fear and those memories would just vanish. I wonder about the cost of having seen someone diminished by illness or aging, how I saw David and how he saw himself. Don’t get me wrong. I would choose to have him back in a minute, but selective amnesia would also be useful.
Could we have come back to confident vitality, after the experiences we went through?
Would we have remembered the lessons we learned and used them to stay bigger, braver, bolder?
What would David’s recovery time have cost me in pursuing my life and dreams?
Or would I have continued to put them on hold until he got better? And how much is good enough?
Would David have become angry and ashamed about his continued limitations and fragility?
Would I have been resentful, guilty and angry about the push/pull between my desire to care for him and to pursue my own dreams?
Would we have solved the fractures and come together stronger than ever or come apart in the aftermath?
David died so we didn’t have a chance to find out. Crying every day this week from the loss of my beloved, I still don’t think it would have been easy. We forget that. Going through being a caregiver, taking care of somebody through illness or aging, when they live, the expectation is that everybody is happy, just happy. The truth is that it’s considerably more complicated a story. And the insistence on happiness refuses to acknowledge the lingering pain and fear, and ongoing residual dread makes it much harder to be honest with those we love who expect simple joy.
I wish my David alive and beside me. And I can see that I would probably have given up my own dreams for consulting and writing books about the Affluence Code and Bad Widow as sacrifice, as caregiver, at least for a while. I believe, when he told me his body was too heavy, that he saw that too. He chose, on some level, to go on before me, because he loved to see me soar.
Thank you, David. I miss you so much. And I love you always and forever.