It’s likely more common for us to leave people when they don’t appear to be dying at all. We get exhausted by their ways; we don’t know what to do for them any longer. Our trying to help them is hurting us. You know the kind of stories I mean. Someone we love gets involved with drugs or alcohol. Someone with an illness—physical or mental—takes too long to get managed. Someone’s grief takes longer to resolve than we have the patience for. Someone can’t seem to get what they want in life, who can’t achieve some lifelong goal that they keep talking about, maybe while striving and failing, or maybe never trying for it at all. Even someone who is repeatedly suicidal. I’ve been one of the leavers. And I’ve been left. I have empathy for both sides.
In this story, the story of my sweet niece who shares my birthday—so I’ll call her 25andaspiring—there is no leaving. In this story, my niece’s boyfriend—I’ll call him Big Ben because of his love of watches and his gentle nature—has habits and patterns that cause many people to leave him. His parents do. His successful older brother does. His step-mother does. (And I do not hold this against them. I understand their actions.)
But my niece, 25andaspiring, does not. She believes in him. Believes he has so much to offer—a sweet nature, a bubbling sense of humor, an untapped intelligence—that he just needs to realize it is there so he can push the muck away to reveal it. She believes he will be able to continue to leave behind his teenage stint with meth addiction. Believes he will stop using alcohol when he realizes how much he can achieve.
She loves him, and he adores her and makes her recognize her infrequently recognized beauty. She loves him even though he calls her every 3 minutes during family dinners (and he knows they are going on). She loves him even though his idea of an evening together is her watching him play computer games. She loves him even though his anxiety keeps him from being able to get beyond his night job, where he has the company of only one other man (it even sounds like a dark place), and from where he calls her all night, keeping her from sleeping, listening to her sleep. She loves him even when his drinking gets worse, when he doesn’t trust his prescription drugs to ease his ever-growing anxiety.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking words like user, loser, addict, alcoholic, enabler. I’ve thought them too.
When my mother loved a loser, I hated them both. I hated that she couldn’t see that he offered her nothing. That all he did was take from her and take from us, her daughters. I thought she was weak, and I hated her for not tossing him out.
Then I loved a loser. An alcoholic who took my money and threw mean liquor-filled words at me—much like Big Ben did to 25andaspiring. And I was so proud of myself when I decided to leave him. Proving to myself that I wasn’t like my weak mother. And I learned that love isn’t enough to decide to build a life with someone. Love is essential. But it isn’t enough.
So why am I so compassionate about 25andaspiring? It’s not because I think she could change him. I find her hopes for him naïve. And it isn’t that her relationship with him didn’t take anything away from me—because I miss having time with her, mourn that she gives him her every free moment. I worry again and again about her not recognizing how she is so unlikely to have a satisfying future with him. Because it seems impossible for him to see past his own painful needs how he might help lift her up and help her achieve her goals as much as she wants to help him. We all worry about this—her parents, her brothers, her grandmother. He’s sweet, but we don’t want him for her.
I think my compassion is fueled by how she doesn’t seem to let his downhill motion get the best of her. Unlike my mother and me, she doesn’t seem to respond with mean, hard words. He doesn’t bring out any ugly in her. She holds him and holds him, hoping love will be enough.
And now, my compassion is at its peak, now that poor Big Ben is dead. He died on Friday night.
We are not sure exactly of the cause—we suspect that he took more anti-anxiety drugs than he needed, mixed them with OTC drugs to help problems he refused to go to the ER for since he didn’t have insurance. And despite my mindful keening of, dear niece, how could you not know this was going to happen? How could you not know he was on the path to this happening despite all the times he turned out OK? I know she is tormented by these thoughts herself. So, my preliminary thought is that she was stuck. Or maybe the thought is just she stuck.
What could she do? His parents wouldn’t help. She used all her resources—her credit cards, her prayers, her encouraging words, her persuasive pleas. What other resources did she have? An exhaustion sets in, a dullness. She loved him.
She told my sister that she knew months ago that it wasn’t going to work between them, but that she just couldn’t bring herself to break up with him. She just couldn’t do it. He was so vulnerable. So alone. And my sister said, “Think how you would feel now if you had. You’d never forgive yourself. You stayed by him until the end.” She stuck by him though he was spiraling downward. He wasn’t in hospice. No one had marked him for dying. Yet, he was deserted. But not by 25andaspiring.
I cry for her, and I’ll use all my resources to help ensure she is not stuck like this again. And I'm grateful that at 45andaspiring, I have more resources to tap.
WHAT I DID TODAY TO FEEL PROUD
I met with D and this is what we did:
- 11 minutes Treadmill at 2.8 mph
- 10 step ups on step (2 tiers) with 8 lb weights overhead press (wrist felt those!)
- 10 set ups on step (2 tiers) with 8 lb weights lateral raises
- 10 lateral leg raises with 8 lb weight and lateral arm raises (both legs)
Then 2 sets of this circuit:
- 15 chest presses with 10 lbs on incline bench
- 15 flies with 10 lbs on incline bench
- 15 rows with the "pulley" machine
- 15 lat pulls (60 lbs)
Then back to the treadmill
- 7.5 minutes with 1 incline at 2.6 mph
- 7.5 minutes with 1.5 incline at 2.8 mph