Remembering the Love We Had

Sometimes I think I am idealizing the past, remembering in too rosy a way the life I had with my late husband. Could we really have been as happy as I remember us being? 

I spent the week of Thanksgiving with my late husband’s brother and his wife and we went through old photo albums and told stories. Photo after photo showed my late husband and me looking ecstatically happy together. There we are in the snow in rural Oregon, smiling from ear to ear. There we are in motorcycle gear in front of a seedy motel in Wyoming, glowing with joy. There we are at a family dinner in Denver, grinning like we just won the lottery. Photo after photo shows his arm around me or on my left shoulder, where I can still feel it sometimes. So many photos of him making me laugh. 

I know photos don’t tell the complete story, the way someone’s Facebook postings don’t represent the entirety of their life. I remember arguments and misunderstandings. I know every day wasn’t perfect, but I also know that every day involved laughter and ended with “I love you.” We both had the same philosophy of life: find joy in the everyday. 

The photos I looked at around Thanksgiving tell that story—the story of two people who found joy in the small things, who loved each other intensely, even when we disagreed. His mother one time observed, “You both think you’re the lucky one and you’re both right.” I know I am lucky to have had that kind of love. 

Despite having spent nearly every moment of the last year of his life with my husband, I wish I had been more present, more well-rested, more responsive instead of reactive, more . . . Everything. I sometimes find myself just wanting more. More of anything with him. More of all the things that I let myself get annoyed about before his stroke—more of the toilet seat being left up, more of his laundry being strewn about the bedroom, more of the dog food container not being refilled when it was empty. More of the kinds of moments captured in those photographs I looked at around Thanksgiving. 

I recognize every moment—the gleeful smiles as well as the picking-up-laundry-with-an-eye-roll moments—as the relationship. 

Now that Tom is dead, it is easy for me to see that getting annoyed about those things was a choice and that I could have made different choices. Not to get what I wanted in the short term—laundry being put in the clothes hamper, for example—but to get the big picture of what I wanted: harmonious time with my husband. I regret every moment I lost to silly annoyances.  

I am lucky to have had the year with him after his stroke, when he was physically unable to put a toilet seat down or place his laundry where it belonged or feed the dogs. I got that time to realize that the things that annoyed me didn’t really matter. I got the harmonious time with my husband. 

I think many of us who have lost a loved one remember their imperfections with love and generosity. I am resolving to greet the imperfections of my living loved ones with the same love and generosity I feel toward those of my dead loved ones. 

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