The question posed to me again and again was, “Why you?”
The event causing such a stir? Being at my ex’s bedside after his surgery for cancer.
No one wished him ill. But what transpired between us and resulted in our divorce several years ago had made them all a bit protective.
I get it. Truly.
I don’t need to go into the particulars here. But I went through hell, financially, emotionally and otherwise. Plenty of people do during a divorce. Mine just had some extenuating circumstances attached.
I was angry for a long time. Resentful. In survival mode.
And then, life did that thing it likes to do; it turned on a dime. In the space of 30 seconds, I went from planning a fun solo weekend sans kids to hearing that he was undergoing emergency surgery within 24 hours. I was getting my kids, packing him a bag, making sure his garbage was taken out.
I knew he had only one family member here and that he would be of little help, emotionally or otherwise. My ex insisted he was going to be fine and needed no one after the surgery.
I knew otherwise.
Call it intuition or common sense. No matter. He was going to need someone after a surgery this major.
He did not want anyone there beforehand so I showed up around the time his surgery should have been done. The surgeon had called me already to tell me the news. Cancer. That’s about all we knew at the time.
As I waited in his room, I felt déjà vu. Even though he had not had a major surgery during our marriage, it felt like so many times in our marriage. Showing up. Being there for him. Looking out for him.
When they wheeled him in, he was moaning. In pain. They just left him there. He wasn’t hooked up to the proper monitors yet, pain meds were running low judging by the sounds he was emitting. He would have been totally alone in the dark if I wasn’t there.
I held his hand. I talked to him in a low voice. And then the question came—he wanted to know if it was cancer. No one had spoken to him yet.
So I explained things to him, the little I knew. Told him the boys and I would be there for him. I spoke, rather sharply, to the nurse I had to unearth from the nurse’s station after several minutes. I made sure they hooked him back up to the right monitors, that he was clear with them on needing more pain meds.
I am no Mother Teresa or Florence Nightingale, trust me. I stayed for all of 30 minutes to ensure he was set up properly and then realized what he really needed was sleep, not distraction. And I was a distraction.
He thanked me, using words I thought I’d never hear from him again. No matter that the next day, he barely remembered I was there and had forgotten our entire conversation. In the moment, he was comforted.
Before I left, I held his hand in the dark room and tears he could not see streamed down my face. If this were five years ago, I would have been sleeping on a cot and monitoring his every move. But I was no longer his wife. I was, really, no longer even the person that should have been at his side.
But it seemed I was still the only one who showed up.
I thought of him being the first face I saw when I awakened after a surgery myself. He was there for me. And I thought about a time when he left my hospital room before another surgery without so much as a goodbye. He was so not there for me. I felt remembered love and anger, gratitude and resentment, all in the same moment. And yet, the strongest emotion was love. Not romantic love. Love for a fellow human being. Sorrow that we could not have figured things out together. But mainly love.
So when my loved ones asked what the hell I was doing, I said the obvious. “The right thing. The human thing. The decent thing.”
To be honest, I don’t know what I was doing besides making sure someone I will always care about was taken care of when no one else stepped up to the plate. I was showing my boys what love looks like, even after things have been ugly.
I was doing what I would want someone else to do for me. If I had not been solid and there, I would never have forgiven myself going forward.
Life is not always clean. The lines become blurred.
Areas become gray and fuzzy.
But my core?
That does not shift. It is always, if I pay attention, clean, clear, bright, crisp.
This time, I paid attention.