The Loss of a Great Love

A couple of years ago, almost two and a half now, tragedy fell upon a well-known couple from Burlington, Vermont, where I lived for six formative years in my twenties. 

After a brutally well-fought yearlong battle with leukemia, the young man with a kind smile — a prominent and well-loved, but peaceful and reserved DJ who provided a banging soundtrack to some of the most amusing nights of my life — lost his fight and passed into the next realm. It was a beyond tragic passing for his partner, who remained by his side throughout every day of his treatment and battle, not to mention the years they shared previous to his illness. His partner is a beautiful, creative woman with an infectiously vivacious smile and spirit, and a talented artist with whom I had the privilege of sharing the dance floor during my many years studying West African dance. 

Their love story was, and is, one of the greatest (real) true love stories I will witness in my lifetime. The entire town mourned its final chapter in this physical lifetime on Earth, as much as it did the passing of this incredible man just a couple days after Christmas.

I was in Costa Rica with my family at the time, on our annual soak-up-the-Pura-Vida-so-that-we-could-go-back-and-survive-a-little-longer-in-New-York-City holiday tour when I found out. I cried for days. I could not stop crying, in fact. Every time I thought about it, I would start bawling again. I tried to explain to my then-Love, now-Ex and his family why I was so upset, but I couldn't find words that made sense.

"Were you close to them?" He asked.

"No," I responded, "Not really at all." 

It took a few days before I realized the reason I could not stop crying: every ounce of my empathy acutely felt her pain because I saw our love mirrored in their love, and I couldn't imagine losing it. I wept for her.

After all, it was the intensity of our love that finally convinced me that such a connection was possible (I met my Ex very late in my twenties; if you missed it, you can read that story here), and while the window between when we fell in love and when our troubles began to unravel the threads was short-lived, it is an experience that I will never forget. It is precisely the reason I've had such a hard time letting go and an impossible time accepting that a love that truly felt so otherworldly and divine in its intensity and depth wasn't meant to last.

We were those people so engrossed in each other that we barely noticed others in public during the first five months, those people whose level of PDA was so ridiculous that people constantly stared, smiled and commented. One time in the Florida Keys, a photographer asked for permission to use a photo she had taken of us wrapped around each other on a tourist train for a book she was creating about love. For the first time in my life, I didn't care about being those people nor about anyone else's perceptions of us, because it was the realest thing I'd ever felt (it held that title until childbirth). We were so very, completely, over-the-top in love with each other.

But it took a while to say those three little words; they were not words quickly or haphazardly uttered on either of our parts. I'll never forget the first time he said, "I love you!" It was magical, and took my breath away as my heart jumped for joy and butterflies flooded my stomach. It was all I was waiting for after the year of Mad Hatter adventures that led up to that moment. I already knew I was madly in love with him but it meant something, everything actually, to hear him say the words first. I waited until he could not hold it inside anymore, then I confirmed in return what he already knew. 

I was naïve in thinking at the time that he had finally chosen me, and just me, but I bought in to the fairytale. Not a Disney fairytale or anyone else's fairytale. I finally believed that there was a fairytale that was meant exactly for me, and that it was a crazy little weird fairytale with him. 

So when I heard my ex's voice confirm through the phone this week that he has grown feelings for the woman he has been living with for only a few weeks (catch up here if you missed part one of that little development), and expressed them to her — even if he assures me that what he feels for her is meaningless and temporary and incomparable to what we shared — I was yanked back to that Christmas two and a half years ago in Costa Rica as though choked on a recoiling leash that had reached its furthest point. 

The feeling of loss I feared and empathized with so passionately, the reason I could not stop weeping, is now my reality. It turned out our love was not mirrored in their love. All we have in common is the loss of a great love in this lifetime.

Looking my worst nightmare straight in the face, I quickly fell back into the black hole of grief; the one where I feel like a pair of floating eyeballs as everything else in my body goes numb. But strangely, when a sense of presence returned to my body, the feeling that settled over and throughout me was an eery sense of calm and quiet.

My heart continues to throb with a dull sadness, but my mind — and the monkeys within who typically chatter ceaselessly as they attempt to process and make sense of the events of my life — are silent.

Reaching the very end of the leash pushes me toward the final stage of grief, acceptance. A destination I hope to reach, and believe I will in time. As every other human has, I've been through a lot in 34 years, and I know my own resilience. But for the moment, I sit with my pain again, feel it, accept it, and will let it pass as I continue down my long, slow path toward healing.