I’ve seen the phenomena before without realizing what it was. It never occurred to me that I could dig past the obvious and find a hidden well of emotion–or, perhaps it did and I just avoided doing it.
A lone tear sliding down someone’s cheek can be written off as so many things, particularly when accompanied by a smile or in the middle of a mundane task. I was an idiot.
I am a man in love…I mean really in love. For more years than I’ve ever done anything consistently (except eating, sleeping and breathing), I’ve been in love with the woman I was lucky to marry.
Each year we are closer to each other than the year before. Each year, our joy seems to grow brighter than the one that preceded it. I was completely unaware that was possible before I met her. I always thought relationships mellowed, became tame, then routine, staying on track simply due to the deep rut carved beneath us over time. I thought, wrongly, that relationships that stood the test of time were those that had just carved a deep enough trough through repetitive daily togetherness, they were able to withstand life blowing them apart.
I have no doubt there are relationships like that, but after many failed attempts of my own, I was genuinely surprised to discover the romantics aren’t deluded bullshit artists as I had always believed. I am as madly and completely in love with my amazing Gretel as I was on the first day of our relationship–more so.
In that time we’ve been through some hard situations. Not least of which was the struggle to convince her that she was worthy of being loved completely. She had a really hard start in adulthood, often brutal. But with constant love, much daily support and reassurance, she slowly discovered she was in fact someone worthy of complete devotion, freeing her to be the creative, silly, compassionate spirit she is today.
But nothing took our breath away like the diagnosis did. I assume it’s some sort of universal wink that such an incredibly rare cancer found her, though it was cruel that it waited so long to show itself; Fewer than 100 English language cases since its discovery in 1919, rare.
Chemo is hard. And chemo for an aggressive cancer is harder. The chemicals pushed through a cancer patient’s body require the presence of a toxic spill hazard suit at home in the unlikely event the chemo pump becomes dislodged and disgorges its contents in the family room. Imagine the havoc it’s delivering on internal organs and systems.
My beautiful Gretel was (and in many ways still is) a picture of health. She and I have lived an organic life, part of the clean food movement, going so far as to buy our own farm when I sold my company six years ago so we could grow much of what we consumed ourselves. Hiking, kayaking, bicycling and hard work were as much a part of our lives as our love for each other. To have dangerously toxic chemicals intentionally pumping through her veins has been a huge slap in the face of that life.
So sensitive have I become to her physical burden, that a single rattling breath from her at night can wake me from a sound sleep. Hearing her cough inside while I stand on the terrace, sends a wave of tension through my chest. And, as I have noticed lately while going about my daily routine with her, just looking at her can result in the oddest physical response I’ve ever experienced–a single tear felt sliding down my cheek for no apparent reason. I’ve noticed it more than once in the past few months.
I’m not stupid. I know I’m suppressing grief and fear. But I have a job to do–I must care for my Gretel. I must earn the money, take her to and sit with her at her appointments, be aware of her physical limitations and be ready to step in at a second’s notice to take over…all the while careful not to take away her sense of worth. Delicate balance, that. But in none of my job descriptions is depression a useful tool. So it gets swallowed hard, deep, and pounded down.
It shouldn’t surprise me that with this great swallowing of emotion, my body sometimes regurgitates it the only way it knows how–that single tear.
There is no catalyst for it. There is no time I’m more prone to experience it than any other. I could be, as I was this morning, just making coffee when I felt the cold wetness on my cheek. I didn’t feel the tear leave my eye. I didn’t feel any particular stress over making the coffee. All I did was look over and watch my Gretel sectioning a grapefruit and smiled at her. A second later I discovered that rogue tear. And now I understand something about people I didn’t before. Now I’m sorry I didn’t realize what was going on when I saw it in others. I might have adjusted my behavior around them–though, I know I hate it when people do that around us these days, so maybe it’s best I didn’t know.
Apparently the body is willing to go through all the steps of sadness even when the mind is unable or unwilling to. Apparently, grief is such a palpable phenomenon, the body will produce the emotionally appropriate response even without the assistance of the mind. Not helpful.
One foot in front of the other. Day by day, treatment by treatment, all we can do is move forward. The only other option is giving up, and that, honestly, is not really an option. It’s not in either of us.
But if you’re hanging out with us on one of our rare high immunity days, and you see a single tear sliding down my cheek while I’m in the middle of a pirate story about Ocracoke Island, or sharks hunting Red Drum in the surf, or the best way to get fat, tasty tomatoes from an organic garden, don’t worry, it’s just allergies, or the wind…nothing to worry about.
S.L. Shelton is the author of an Amazon Bestselling Thriller/Action Espionage Series, (The Scott Wolfe Series), and the new Bestseller, Hedged. Follow him here on WordPress, on Twitter @SLSheltonAuthor or Facebook. His wife is currently battling an aggressive, rare cancer. If you feel the desire to help, you can make a contribution at the GoFundMe that their daughter set up, or buy his books.