Rob and I went to a Christmas Party for Cancer Survivors last night. Strangely enough, I talked with 2 people that had lost children. The first one lost a four-year-old son to heart disease and had also lost her husband to cancer. She has cancer herself. She was there as a volunteer.
The desserts had been set up in the kitchen and that was her post, so we sat on little chairs and talked about how it was to lose a child and a spouse both.
We had a lovely dinner and then I went back into the dessert area and ended up talking with a man who was quite a character. Eighty-two years old and full of piss and vinegar. He talked a blue streak and reminded me of a vaudevillian. Full of jokes and nonsense. I told him I wanted to meet the wife that had put up with him all of these years.
She told a different story. “They found my 56-year-old son dead in his apartment this April,” she told me. “They wouldn’t let me see the body. It had been 5 days of more since his death. I feel so guilty that I wasn’t nice to him.”
“I know what it is to lose a child,” I said. I told her about my daughter’s death and then I said, “and I know how you feel about the guilt. Towards the end of my husband’s illness, I felt like a witch….burned out and angry and spilling it all onto him.”
I reached out and took her hands in mine. Her husband, once babbling jokes at me, just sat with a look of deep sorrow on his face. I took his hand, too. Suddenly the 3 of us were joined in a spirit of understanding, of loss, of contrition.
We talked a bit more and then it was time to go. I said perhaps we will meet a year from now at this event. The wife has breast cancer; the husband is holding himself together with old jokes and a deeply kind and loving heart. That’s how it goes. As Leonard Cohen says, “Everybody knows.”