Married Grief

Hannah and I were watching “The Wedding Singer” tonight (which is a great film, actually – really fun) and one of the things that was really poignant for me was the end where Adam Sandler sings to Drew Berrymore about how he’ll do all these nice little things for her and grow old with her and all that. And it’s funny because when Hannah and I got married, I thought about the classic “little” gestures and how I would do them for her. And thank god she made me knock her off a pedestal because I had some idea of what that actually means.

But the death of my mother has brought a whole new kind of dimension to that. Like doing the little things for one another isn’t just nice anymore, but profoundly difficult and profoundly important. A lot of days it’s about the only thing that keeps our little world running. And honestly, it’s very hard. One of the benefits to being alone when really bad things happen is that you don’t have to think about how you want to deal with it will affect other people. If you want to just not do the dishes for a week – it’s just you and your poor dish ware that suffers the consequences – and honestly there’s relatively little harm in it.

But together with another person who is also grieving? Man, life just doesn’t stop. As much as you want a pause button. As much as you want to check out for however long it takes – life continues on. Of course that’s a good thing, and one of the things I continue to hold on to with great joy. But it means things continue to come up.

There’s a kind of fragile little world that we’ve set up here. It comes from many different needs. For me, the one that keeps calling me (the one I can never seem to say no to) is the deep need to care for those closest to me. When my mom died, from that night to now, and for god alone knows how long, I have been preoccupied by it. It makes it hard to grieve and process and let emotions flow when you’re constantly worried about other people. Giving them space to be upset, thinking about how to help them. It’s something I work at just about every day, but it’s hard. I need them to be okay.

My dad said to me once that love means you suffer with the person you love. While dramatic and a bit pessimistic, it’s true. It means it hurts – not double, but a little bit more than maybe it would alone. And that’s why those small things – those small stupid things people don’t think about when they get married, are so goddamn critical. Because doing the dishes, runnnig the laundry, wiping down the counters – all those things mean so much. Because when you hurt you want it not to hurt anymore. You want to fix it, and there’s nothing that can fix this pain. It doesn’t have a remedy. But those everyday things, those are tangible fixes. Those are messages of support and recognition and most importantly of all – they are sacrifices that you can afford to make for one another.

I can’t imagine going through this period without Hannah. To have someone to share the burden with, even if it means a bit more pain here and there to share hers, is a strange blessing. Her support has been incredible. Not perfect by any means, just as mine has not. But together we’re learning how to build our life back up and put things back on the walls, so to speak. To have someone willing to empty the dishwasher – without request or prompt – while you lay staring at the white tiles in the bathtub, because they know you need it. That is a precious and special thing.

It’s interesting. When I thought about love and marriage – i always thought about that old phrase “I would do anything for you.” For me growing up, that was the bar against which I measured love. Would I do any thing for you?

Of course that’s a pretty bullshit measure. When my mom was in the hospital, Hannah came with me every day all day, and that I would say falls under the “doing anything for you” category. And that was amazing. Truly a deep act of love.

But in the weeks and now growing months after, there isn’t an act to perform. There isn’t one thing and even if there was, it wouldn’t matter. Because what is hard is every day. It’s not something you can fix or change. My mom is dead. Our life has changed. And more than any gesture, it’s all the stupid day to day shit that matters. Because life doesn’t stop. It doesn’t just pause for you when shit gets real or beats you in the face. Life keeps going with or without you.

So when I can barely get up in the morning and Hannah opens the door for the cats, or when I come home and have to do homework and really just want to sit and stare at a wall, and Hannah makes dinner even though she’s had a ducking hard day at work too – that’s what matters.

It’s complicated being married and grieving. It’s hard. According to some authority it’s the second hardest thing a couple can go through. Honestly I really wish there’s wasn’t anything more difficult because holy shit this is hard enough as it is.

But what’s hard is the fact that life doesn’t stop. And it can be hard to handle. It reminds me of that quote from some famous book – “the good does not erase the bad, nor the bad the good”. Like my life and the normal emotions I have about it are all still there, living in tandem with the grief. And Hannah is in

I am just so goddamn lucky. I am not as much as I am right now. I struggle daily to be present in anything, and I can feel that in my relationship too. This is not what anyone signs up for when they get married. No one knew they were agreeing to half the person they married. And yet, this incredible woman has stood by not just my side, but my family’s too, every step of the way. It’s not pretty, it’s not perfect, and I hate that I am so little of the person I was with her right now. But I am unbelievably lucky to have Hannah here with me. To have found a person who understands and stays and supports. It is not always pretty. Hannah breaks down almost nightly from the pressure. And we bicker about small chores or missed items frequently. But we both sit together and know that everyone is doing their goddamn best. And we’re going to come through it together. Even if the means we come out with some deep scratches and dark bruises (metaphorically obviously).

one of Hannah’s friends was joking and said, “Nathan, you’re so amazing, you could do better.” And in my finer days I could have said something cute and pithy and true, but today I wasn’t sure how to react because even though it was a joke (and one Hannah participated in at that) all I wanted to say was “No. You don’t understand. This woman has been there for me every step of the way. She has called friends and family to cry while I take a shower so she can support me when I get out, and she holds that for some later time that I can actually hear her talk about it. There is no one better.”

The thing is – no one should ever have to assume the role either of us are in, and she’s done it without complaint.