Thursday, December 16, 2010


After a man undergoes surgery to remove a lung tumor, the surgeon reports to the man’s wife that he came through the operation beautifully and now needs just a few hours in the recovery room. The wife says she needs to see him, and now. The surgeon says he’ll be cleaned up enough in a few minutes. She cries, saying she needs to see him immediately to verify that he’s alive. The surgeon tries to reassure her that indeed he’s alive and doing well, but she doesn’t buy it. When she gets more upset, the surgeon allows her to visit.

Certainly a loved one should have access unless a visit is predictably dangerous, but there’s another issue here: the woman is concerned to a disturbing degree. It’s not unlike how I felt after our first child was born, when I continually tiptoed to her crib to be sure she was breathing. After several weeks, I realized I couldn’t continue doing this into her thirties, say, without considering myself neurotic.

The woman’s husband learned of her deep worries as he convalesced. Surprised and concerned for her, he recommended she attend a caregivers’ support group. She learned in the group that her anxiety wasn’t at all uncommon. Many of us worry about our mate dying, often to the extent that it replaces the current joy of being together with the worry that it won’t last.

I suggest a little radical surgery here. Begin with the ultimate, undeniable truth: death isn’t a possibility or an option; it’s a sure thing. It may be unpleasant or inconvenient to consider, but we will all die. That means every relationship will dissolve. We are certain to lose one another. Try that on. If it feels depressing or morbid at first, that’s because our culture has chosen to define it as such. Other cultures around the world see death and eventual separation as natural, normal.

Once we accept that, we realize that the only time we have with one another is right now, so we’d best take advantage of it. Right now…and now…and now…

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