Monday, August 6, 2012

Losing People

During the mid-1970s, my wife and I felt besieged. We had managed to surround ourselves with a nice group of friends in Suburban DC. We entertained them and they entertained us frequently. Dinner parties were common and great fun. We actually enjoyed one another and talk was fast and furious. Then, the world began to change. Maybe it was a hangover from the 60’s, maybe it was the ongoing war. Maybe it was just the 70’s. But one by one, we began losing our friends to divorce. One couple after another suddenly decided that they were not going to remain together. Sometimes they had found someone else. But mostly, they just decided that they didn’t want to be together any longer. Mostly, the divorcing couples had no kids, but a few did.  We felt like we were under attack. We continued to love and cherish one another, but this blizzard of divorces always seemed a threat.

Well, we survived. The broken couples all moved on and mostly we lost contact.

Now, fast forward to the present. We are older now, much older. And now, we are once again losing people, this time because they are dying.  I know, I know. Dying is one of those things that happen eventually to everyone.  Still, it feels threatening, in ways that exceed that which occurred during our friends-divorcing phase of life.
No one quite prepares you for this kind of thing.
But one of the things I am discovering is that, whereas I seem to suffer from compassion fatigue, my wife of now 57 years, seems to get stronger with this phenomenon. Her compassion seems to be growing in amazing ways. She calls people—the afflicted and the survivors-- daily, often more frequently. She offers them advice, solace, warmth, love. They respond in kind.
Perhaps this is one of those defining characteristics, in which women are simply better than men.  All I know is that I remain quite in awe at this endless capacity she displays for spreading warmth and love to people at or near the end of their lives. I know that not everyone can do such things, not all women and certainly not all men. I don’t know if she is unique in this regard, but it does seem so.  And the world is a better place because of her capacity and her willingness to spread this love and warmth to others at a time of need.
Quite beautiful.
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