Jim lived big. He also died big. Jim had big dreams. They took up a lot of space, energy, and time. When I picture his life, I see large planks of scaffolding, one piled on top of another. Overlapping, some not perfectly balanced on the one below…stretching upward towards the sky. I fit my life in around the margins. I put Jim through grad school…twice. While he designed and built bike trails, I fed babies, and him when he got home. When he began to pursue his rafting passion, I took the kids to swimming lessons and made sure their life jackets fit. I took small children to go see and maintain family relationships while he set off on Daddy adventures. I did all the family finances and got pretty good at home repairs, including carpentry and electrical fixes. Plumbing still scares me. I did yard work….which I abhor unless it is growing something I can eat. I was good at it. I am a girl. I am from the midwest. I work hard, and I know how to accommodate. I also knew I was essential. I was the glue that held the scaffolding together. I kept the whole pile from toppling over and crashing to the ground. I guess I always thought that at some point in time, it would be my turn, and he would be there to support my life, my dreams.
A few years before Jim got sick, I started building my life. The kids were getting older, I had time and some energy. I was going through menopause. The inner bitch was closer to the surface, and I discovered I kinda liked her. I became a little less accommodating. I started pursuing some of my own passions. Jim didn’t always like this. But, I was fiercely protective of them. I dove into my spirituality. I kept early morning running dates. I spent time laughing with and loving my friends. I took some of what I had learned professionally to the state and national levels. At one point, Jim asked me, “When is this all going to stop?” I was the behind the scenes spouse. I was, and still am, the behind the scenes parent. I had to inform him that it would “all stop”, when I died. We went to counseling. We graduated. I was finally able to appreciate the gifts he brought to the relationship, and he was learning how to support me in my dreams. It was gonna be my turn.
Then he got sick. We had to forget everything we learned. I went back to being accommodating. Wasn’t that difficult. 20+ years of old habits die hard. He needed me….desperately, and I had time and energy to give. He lived big until the end. I supported and encouraged every last adventure. I gave up precious time with him so that he could dive back into his dreams…and pull the cloak of this community tightly around him. I helped him navigate the medical maze and wrote about it…so others, and he, could understand what was coming next. When his words really began to fail, I dropped everything to listen to what he still wanted to say…much of it without words. When he could no longer prep a meal or eat, I was there for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. I left him once for an evening during this time….with his mother. I organized hospice care and visits from friends. I let him die at home, and then put on his memorial when all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and sleep. I spent a year spreading his ashes in all the remote locations he loved. I don’t regret or resent any of it. Along with fidelity, in sickness and in health and til death were components of our marriage vows. But mostly, despite all of Jim’s faults, fussiness, and farts, I loved him. I loved him with my whole heart, and it was clearly not my turn.
In the process, I never really lost my dreams. I used Jim’s hikes, bike rides and adventures with stinky boys to keep working, keep playing, for time to listen to that small still voice within. I got a smart phone and scheduled doctor’s appointments for Jim during breaks while attending conferences in Boise. I kept my early am running dates, and added swimming to feel productive in my insomnia. I began to realize that my writing was as much for me as it was for him, so I kept it up. My life continued to grow, the one along side of Jim’s, and my own. After his death, it’s still growing. I’m still learning, I’m still laughing, I’m still dancing, and I am still loving. And now he is gone, and via a very cruel twist of fate, it is my turn.