June 9, 2006


This has little to do with Ireland in particular. It’s more about dealing with long-distance and independence in a long-term relationship.

When Jrex and I began dating we lived 6 hours apart. Many relationships these days seem to get forged in the heat of physical attraction and the friendship follows after (if it ever does). For us we subsisted on phone calls, letters and occasional visits for a year and a half. It meant that the emotional friendship became the strongest base in our marriage. It also established a degree of independence in the midst of our growing interdependence.

Three weeks after Jrex and I got married my mother was diagnosed with cancer of unknown primary. He was also finishing his PhD. Most nights he got home between 10 pm and 2 am then left again by 7 am. People kept asking how I liked married life. In my head I would snort and think, “I’ll tell you when I find out!” On the outside I nodded and smiled, “I like it.” During that first year of marriage I went home to my Mom as often as I could. Jrex finished his PhD in July, the week before he started back into his 3rd year of medical school. He didn’t have much time off. In September (our 6th month of marriage), I went home ‘for as long as it took’. My Mom was dying. My job gave me indefinite leave (but I didn’t care. I would have quit if they hadn’t done that. Death certainly reorganized my priorities). My husband also gave me indefinite leave (so to speak). I stayed there for a month and a half. My Mom died within two weeks, but my sister and I stayed behind to clean the house (and to be depressed and lethargic).

Jrex’s medical school graciously gave him a week off to come home for Mom’s last few days of life and to stay for the funeral. He was the one in the room with her when she breathed her last breath. The rest of us were exhausted from waiting while she rasped random breaths of air. We’d stop breathing when she did, “Is this it? Was that the last one?” then draw in ragged air when she did.

By the end of our first year of marriage we’d only been in the same house for 9 months. Throughout our marriage we’ve had various times apart. Mostly I’ve been off visiting friends or family while Jrex toils in his medical or research programs. I’ve often worked four 10-hour days a week so I could take 3 day weekends.

Why do I say all this? Well, I thought that being here wouldn’t be a big deal emotionally. I didn’t expect to be woebegone without him. In some ways I’m not, but the lack of him feels like a hole in my side. We can’t talk on the phone and he doesn’t have access to Skype so we can’t really IM. We tried via email but it was awkward at best. I don’t know how to express it. Something is missing. I’m off balance. I’ve forgotten how to journal because I’m used to telling him what I’m thinking rather than writing it down. I’m with another married couple who are wonderful, but don’t process or travel the same way that Jrex and I do. When he and I travel together I rarely need time alone. On this trip I’m craving it because there’s nowhere that is ‘home’. If Jrex is with me, so is my sense of ‘home’. It’s not our house, much as I love it, it’s us together wherever that may be that creates the sense of a safe haven.

I suspect this all feels more poignant because of the lives of these women. I know that missing him is temporary. What would it be like to know this hole would only grow deeper? It took me 7 years before I started feeling 'normal' without my Mom. How long would it take for an amputated heart to grow back? It scares me to even consider it.


weigook saram said...

It must be hard to be with the other couple, but not have JRex with you. I'm sure there are experiences you wish you could share with him.

You guys must have a strong relationship, considering everything you've endured.

snickollet said...

My paternal grandparents, happily married for close to 60 years, maintain that the bits of time that they spent apart (traveling, pursuing individual interests, etc.) are one of the main reasons their marriage is so healthy. Like you, they find the time apart gives them an appreciation for the time together.

The strength of your relationship comes through so clearly in this post. It must be especially tough to be apart right now when there's so much going on in your life together at home base.

GH is my home the way Jrex is your home. It's a very comforting feeling, isn't it? As for how it will feel to lose that, I don't think I'll ever totally recover. It might get less painful over time, but I can't believe that it will ever seem normal, or right.