Loving him more when he walks out the door

Special for Infobae of The New York Times.


Six weeks after we got married, my husband got a call from his mom and we rushed to the hospital. Her aunt Lona was in the intensive care unit after a severe headache at breakfast turned out to be a brain aneurysm, and the doctors could do no more.

Ten family members gathered around Lona’s bed. The chaplain asked Lona’s 17-year-old daughter if there was anything she wanted to do for her mother before the machine was turned off.

“I want to paint her toenails,” she replied.

Everyone responded to the call and a pink enamel bottle materialized.

I watched as my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, new husband, and father-in-law each took the little jar of polish and brushed it across Lona’s toes. He was only 46 years old. I stood with my new family as the doctors turned off the machines, the room fell silent, and Lona faded from our lives.

Still newly married, I learned that aneurysms were common in my husband’s family. He was predisposed to the defect, described by Lona’s doctor as a bulge in a blood vessel in the brain, somewhat like a berry on a branch.

He and his brothers and cousins ​​received a letter from her doctor advising them to get tested. If doctors catch an aneurysm early, they might put in a stent to mitigate the risk of rupture. That my husband suffered from sporadic but debilitating migraines—headaches so severe that he was partially blind and had to lie in a dark room—made me even more concerned. Migraines are not related to aneurysms, but I didn’t know that at the time. Most aneurysms are not hereditary and arise spontaneously, which I did know, so it wasn’t an irrational fear for me.

His sister, brother, and cousins ​​took this letter to their doctor and got tested. His tests came back negative. They did not possess the defect that put them at increased risk of rupture and sudden death.

My husband? He did not want to be tested.

He said that if one of his blood vessels was susceptible to rupture, he preferred not to know. At the time, the tests weren’t always reliable, and he was a healthy 28-year-old man. If they found a bulge, did he really want the surgeons to get into his brain and stent it? No, I didn’t want to. It is better to live life to the fullest and enjoy each moment as if it were the last, because in any case the destiny of all is death.

It wasn’t what he wanted to hear, but he couldn’t argue. When I imagined having to undergo a procedure for a defect that may or may not cause a problem, a procedure that affected the organ that makes us human, I understood.

We keep the doctor’s letter in a safe place and go on with our lives.

At the time, we were both working in a fancy Italian restaurant. One night while on vacation, my husband had an ocular migraine in the heat of dinner, and my mind traveled far. I wasn’t a migraine sufferer, so I had never taken those headaches seriously, but now that I knew about aneurysms, the only thing I could think about, however irrational, was her dying suddenly.

I rushed to try to serve my customers; the bar was packed and the line was out the door. The other servers took over preparing martinis, while our manager ushered my husband from behind the bar.

“Don’t worry, my love,” he told me, “I’ll be fine!”

And she was, after several Advils and twenty minutes alone in a back room. But my hands had grown cold and my insides trembled.

Several nights later, while preparing the dining room with other servers, I expressed my fear that my husband would die young. It seemed more like a certainty that I had to prepare for, but I had no idea how. A waitress friend told me, “You have nothing to complain about, Carol. You have found your soulmate, the love of your life. The rest of us may never find what you have.”

And how did he know? Because it was true: from the moment my husband and I kissed for the first time, I had the feeling that he and I had been reaching out for centuries, that we had lived past lives with arms outstretched, always yearning for each other, but For tragic reasons beyond our control—war, hunger, quarrels—we were never able to be together.

Maybe it was my overly dramatic brain—my husband and I were both actors when we met—but I couldn’t help it. This life with him felt like a prize at the end of a series of trials where we could finally enjoy marital bliss.

But how much time would we have? Ten years? Five? How much was enough?

I took to heart what my friend told me and swore to always be present with this man I loved. If our time together was to be short, I would enjoy it to the fullest.

However, life occupied us with other matters and I forgot. Like any married couple, we would fight. But then I remembered. My heart was beating wildly at the thought of living without this man, and I was rushing to have a reconciliation. It was easier to let go of the little things when I thought about how little time we might have.

I exercised special vigilance over our moments of farewell. My husband noticed and told me, laughing, “You never love me more than when I walk out the door.”

Every time we parted ways, I thought: “What if it all ends here?” If I was distracted or upset and I knew I couldn’t live with the way we left things, I would go after him and fix the situation, and my husband started doing the same.

After the birth of our children, I felt especially vulnerable. He needed her physical and emotional help. My plan was never to raise our children alone. Every time my husband had one of his migraines—they happened two or three times a year, without warning—this fear that the end could come at any moment was triggered.

As the children got older, their migraines occurred less. I marked the years with waves of gratitude that at least I had had him with me for that time… no matter how much: when the pipes froze and the dog died, when our son threw up in Amsterdam and his appendix nearly burst, when our daughter drove the family minivan off the road during an ice storm.

One day, on any given afternoon, with the children making noise in the living room, I remember looking at my husband and thinking: if this is our last moment together, then it is okay because we have already had a very rich experience and a full life.

At a certain point I got to the point, and I don’t even know when, where I started appreciating what I had every day instead of noticing it only during moments of panic. It’s like this line from Wendell Berry’s novel, “A Place on Earth”: Death has become part of the way I love, and not just my husband, but everyone who is important to me. life.

Time, for me, carries with it a certain sharpness that I can almost feel on my skin, especially in everyday moments when I am together with my loved ones in a room. I have a deep appreciation for knowing glances and touches, the privilege of reaching out and finding someone there.

I don’t know if it’s possible to prepare for death, and I’ve finally convinced myself that recurrent migraines and brain aneurysms are not related. But Lona’s early death gave me a gift I wouldn’t have had otherwise: a heightened awareness of life. Thanks to her, I paid more attention to my marriage and to the world in everyday life.

Last year, our son turned 17 years old. My husband and I celebrated our 24th anniversary at home during the pandemic with a bottle of red wine. I still have the doctor’s letter. It is rolled up inside the cardboard sleeve of a bottle of Lagavulin that we drank during our wedding. From time to time, I unroll it like an ancient scroll, read it, and put it back.


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