Relief Gravitas

July 14, 2006

About fifteen months after we were married, Michele became ill. The illness itself isn't important, the fact it was debilitating, potentially embarrassing, and chronic is important. This illness plagued her until the day she died.

My character is such that I never shirked my role in our lives. I provided care when care was called for, and emotional support when physical care could no longer make a difference. I discovered within me a tremendous ability to accept and to overcome. Before I start to sound self-serving or aggrandizing let me also say that more than once I wished the situation would be over. Hopefully in a manner that allowed us to have peace and comfort in our lives, but over.

As hard as this is to admit, especially here where all can see it, I am relieved to no longer have to suffer the burden of her demons. Once I emerged from the fog of immediate grief last winter and earlier this spring, I was shocked to discover a vein of relief within my emotions. At first I assumed that I was relieved for her, that she was no longer suffering her physical ailments and emotional scars. Certainly I am grateful that she is no longer in pain. However, I have come to realize that some portion of my relief is for myself. Selfish and small as that may sound, I am relieved that I am no longer under the strain of her condition.

A very good friend of mine, who also knew Michele for many years, helped me to see this today. Helped me to say it out loud, adding to its gravitas. I know in my heart that I gave all of myself to our relationship, that I was committed and involved, that there was nothing more I, or anyone else, could have done. Yet I still feel guilt at recognizing my sense of relief. I have often tried to look at what she did in killing her self as setting me free. I believe, more strongly now than ever, that in her mind she was paving the way for me to live without burdens, real or imagined, that she brought with her.

Recently I have started a new journey in my life. As the door to my past slowly swings closed, I am turning more towards the future, and its open doorways. Acknowledging all my feelings about Michele, our relationship, her death, and my life now, is the only way I know to be. I am moving forward with my life, not because she would have wanted me to, because I need to - because I must.

Our relationship began quietly and unobserved by many around us. Having a marriage ceremony was our way of saying to the world who we were, and who we wanted to become. Ceremony is important in life, it adds import and focuses all of your being on the momentous undertaking you are accepting. Michele's life ended and I had another ceremony, also public, to honor her and to share a small part of the woman I knew with the people in our lives. Since that time I have shared some parts of my process here, and others in conversations with friends.

The name of this site, zanshin is a martial arts term that translates to "remaining mind." The parable that explains it best relates the story of two monks who are forbidden to touch women. Coming to a river crossing where a woman is stranded, the older monk carries her across and sets her down. Later the younger monk asks how he could break his vow and touch a woman, how he could carry her. The older monk replies, "I set her down at the river's edge, you are still carrying her." Today I feel as if I have reached a milestone; I have managed to set part of my burden down at the river's edge.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.