When I was twenty-seven years old, a woman friend became frustrated with how much love and attention I was giving Barry, my husband of five years. She was a teacher of women’s studies at a local college. This subject was brand new in 1973 and emphasized women’s liberation. She saw my devotion to Barry as old fashioned and “unliberated.” In a burst of anger she said, “You’re putting all your eggs in one basket. Barry is going to die someday and then you’ll be sorry you concentrated so much love on him.”
I was so stunned and hurt by her words that I had to let go of that friendship. However, over the years, I couldn’t help reflecting on her words. She was right that I was making my relationship with Barry my top priority, even over my career and friends. But was this wrong? Would I one day regret that I had focused so much of my love on him? If he died suddenly, would I find that I had done the wrong thing by concentrating so much of my time on him?
In the past twelve months I have reflected on this woman’s words more deeply. It has been a difficult period of time. Seven close friends that we have known over twenty five years have died. A few of these have died very suddenly in the peak of their careers and activities. Several close women friends have become widows after many years of marriage. Each of these women has loved their husband fully. One of my friends, who was married for 47 years, says it is all the love she gave that is now the greatest comfort for her. If she had to do it all over again, she would have still loved completely and made her husband the focus of her love.
When we work with people in their grieving process, we find that it is the love that is not given that causes the most pain and sadness. I must admit that with our seven friends that have passed this year, I definitely have some regrets. I wish I would have spent more time with some or called more often. But I am also comforted because, with each one, they knew I loved them and believed in their greatness. They knew I appreciated them and carried them tenderly in my heart.
Now that several of my friends have become widows I cannot help but reflect on my own situation. With the time I have left with Barry, how do I want to spend it? I certainly do not want to hold onto anger and resentment. My one friend became a widow in the course of minutes. One minute her husband was active and getting ready for their child’s birthday party, and the next minute he was gone. I want to keep my relationship with Barry very current and in harmony. I want to work through difficulties as quickly as we can. Each day I want to love him in a new way. I want him to feel cherished. I may never be perfect in the ways I want to love him, but it is in the trying that brings me so much comfort.
Two weeks ago we had another death in our family. This time it was our daughter Rami’s beloved horse, Magic, who had been her very dear friend for twenty two years. A death of such a treasured animal has its own deep grief. Rami had a memorial service for her horse at his burial site. She dressed up in her cowgirl clothes that she had gotten as a young teenager when she first bought Magic and read a tribute to him. Our family plus her closest friends came to the service. Each of us spoke about our love for this very special horse. At the end one friend said, “Rami, you loved and cared for your horse 100%. All the love you gave to him will come back and bless you.”
The love we give to others comes back and blesses us. I am so grateful that I did not listen to that “liberated” woman friend. I am so grateful that I gave my all to Barry during a period of time in our country when it was considered “backward and politically incorrect” for a woman to love her husband so completely. I am grateful that the love has come back and blesses me over and over again.
Let’s not hold back our love from anyone that is dear to us. Let’s take every opportunity to express our appreciation and caring. No one can hear heart-felt words of love too often. I have understood more deeply this year that we really don’t know how much time we have left with our loved ones. Fortunately for the friends of mine that became widows this year, they had taken the time to love on a daily basis. Even though one husband was gone in the wink of an eye, it is all the words and acts of love and tenderness that will bring enduring comfort to his wife.
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world's top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk to Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant to Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift.
Call Toll-Free 1-800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299) or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for free newsletter from Barry and Joyce, further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.