A first taste
My first experience with loss started last June, when a 17 years relationship ended abruptly. The woman I loved for half of my life left me to try something new. We were very civil about it and we both remain nice to each other but, the span of only four weeks in which it happened, and the impact it had in all the sectors of my life left me dizzy, confused and with a feeling of emptiness and absurdity I have rarely ever felt.
As "the Dude" would put it, "the rug that really tied the room together" was gone. The void that replaced it became my new companion. At first I hated it, with a passion. My reaction was to fight it with whatever I could find: work, beers, parties, girls, etc. I filled my life with anything that would keep the void at bay. After 3 months of this regimen, I was toast. I was barely able to function properly anymore and my sleeping patterns were messier than ever.
Time for a shift. Instead of fighting the void, I tried to tame it, to consider it also as an opportunity for me to have more room in my life, to take more time to do what I enjoy doing, to stop running, to breathe, to try new things, meet new people, and to spend more time with old friends.
It helped. A lot. Although the void created by that loss still hits me hard some days, although it can still hurl me down a bottomless pit of sadness at times, I know now that it can bring me nice moments as well.
Cancer is a bitch
A couple of week after our breakup, my phone rang one Tuesday afternoon, it was my mother. "You have to come over, I need to talk to you". "I could come over this week-end, no problem". "No no, Jérôme, I need you to come by now, today". I knew something was not quite right so I took the train after work and we met on a sunny terrace in downtown Namur.
"Well, she said, I have been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer. I have to undergo five months of chemo, then an operation and then radiotherapy". There it was again, loss, this time manifesting itself in a more subtle way, through the prospect of maybe loosing my mum. A more prospective kind of void, but a void nonetheless.
I decided to spend more time with her, to come over and cook for her over the weekend, to help her shave her head and laugh with her about the beauty of her hairless skull, to enjoy our lengthy conversations, the slow walks through the Belgian countryside we did together whenever she had the energy.
Mom and I didn't always have an easy relationship. This time around it was different. The very real possibility of that void allowed me to discover my mom as a person, her fears, her unfailing courage, her unshakable willingness to fully live every moment, good or bad, by giving it everything she had. Her kindness also shined vividly: she didn't want me to think that what she went through meant that she didn't consider my own struggles. We supported each other. Never in our lives had we been so close.
Thankfully, the chemo yielded results and the operation went very well. Mum is fine today. Although the possibility of that void will inevitably come back, it will never take away what it brought us both. We are closer because of it, we have discovered each other and forged new bounds, not only as mother and son, but also as people having been through tough times together.
New beginnings and new ends
A couple of month ago, I met a woman I would probably never have encountered without the voids in my life.
We chatted for days before meeting each other for our first date. We both talked about our shortcomings, flaws and cracks, about our hopes and fears. Meeting someone in your forties is inevitably very different than when you are twenty five. I was lost at times, probably very clumsy as well. I was also very determined to deal with my issues on my own, without counting on her to "fix" or "help" me in any way.
I realized that those cracks are as an essential part of us as our qualities, and can even be charming at times. I discovered that speaking about my insecurities was possible and even accepted. That, maybe, it even prompted her to talk about hers. I was bluntly honest. I shared how I felt, not in the hope of infecting her with my happiness or wanting her to help me deal with my sadness, but just because I simply couldn't help it. I didn't want to loose any time, I wrote her poems, I grabbed her hand when walking down the street, we cooked for each other, we went to exhibitions, we shared brunches at 5 in the morning coming back from parties. It felt simple, it felt good. That's not to say I didn't have any doubts, I was simply focusing on enjoying the moment.
She is the mother of a 6 years old boy. The fact that we both had our own lives and only saw each other when we would both be available was a new experience for me. It made me realize that a relationship can feel great without living with someone day in and day out, without necessarily having to experience the constant friction of everyday life, without rubbing our mutual wounds, and that those empty moments also created a space that could be filled with anticipation.
That short but nice story ended rather abruptly. Some of us are more interested in chasing an immediate spark than in the longer road consisting in looking for wood, building a fire together and slowly creating long lasting embers. That's ok too. At least it has taught me that relationships can have a comfortable degree of elasticity, and that preserving a healthy amount of space and distance is something to be mindful of.
I write a lot these days, just to get things out of my system. I hesitated to post this on my blog. Then, thinking about it some more, I thought that posting it for everyone to see was probably part of the process.
Those experiences with loss made me more aware of myself and created a certain urgency. I want to live every moment fully, the tears as well as the smiles, without filters. Those voids also left me wanting to be more gentle with myself and others, while wearing my scars proudly, as a part of who I am today.