A group of friends were sitting around the pool, lamenting the guests who get up at five in the morning to place towels across rows of lounge chairs, such that by the time most arrive at the pool after breakfast, there isn’t a single chair to be had.
“Give the pool guy five bucks and he’ll bring out an extra chair,” someone suggested. We all agreed that was ridiculous—if there are more chairs, why don’t they just put them out? Doesn’t this kind of service make you nuts?
“Thank God Dad isn’t here,” one of my kids said with a smile, bringing on a chorus of chuckling from the group of friends who heard him.
We were gathering for my son’s wedding in Mexico, and for a split second, I cringed, thinking his words so harsh. But I knew he didn’t really mean that literally. Instead, it was an inside joke, a reference to my late husband’s complete lack of patience at service that didn’t meet his level of expectations. It was a breath of relief that we wouldn’t have to watch Greg do battle with one of these poor pool guys over the chair situation.
It was also something more. It was an acceptance by my son, by me, and by all of our friends at that moment, that Greg was indeed human, that he had faults, some of them highly annoying.
It wasn’t always that way. When Greg first collapsed in Madrid, I couldn’t think of anything beyond the horrible fear that I might lose him. As he battled to recover over the next six months, I thought less and less of his faults, and more and more about why I had fallen in love with him and built a life with him.
By the time he died, I harbored no negative feelings about any aspect of his personality or any of our time together over forty years. I felt only love, and the incredible weight of grief that comes from losing someone I had loved for so long. I considered this one of the gifts that came out of my tragedy—the opportunity to rediscover love and let go of everything else.
My experience was not unique. After losing someone we love, there is a tendency to elevate them nearly to sainthood. As my friend, also widowed, likes to say to newly widowed women, “Are we to believe he never left the toilet seat up?”
It validates our pain when we portray to the world just how incredible our partner was, and therefore how great our loss is. But, of course, that’s not a realistic portrayal of any long-term relationship. Certainly not mine.
Even so, I couldn’t even think about any of Greg’s faults or any of the challenges we faced in our relationship when I first lost him. I wanted the young man whom I had fallen for at Bucknell back. I wanted to relive those wild teenage years fueled with passion. I wanted my life partner, the father of my children, to be by my side so we could continue to live a long life together. I wanted only to think of all of the love, beauty, and strength of our relationship.
I didn’t want to think of that huge fight we once had on a long plane ride home from an international trip.
I didn’t want to remember times he had acted in a way I found embarrassing.
And I didn’t want anyone else to think or speak negatively of him.
Over time, that changed. Greg wasn’t perfect (nor am I) and our relationship wasn’t perfect either. We fought, we struggled, and he annoyed and angered me many times over our forty years together. But those things don’t define him or our life together.
Now five years after that tragic day in Madrd, I’m able to think of Greg’s flaws and our challenges with a smile and a chuckle, just like our friends had at the pool that day. I am able to speak about Greg to others in a balanced way, accepting that he was human, while still honoring the life we had together. It’s my hope that my kids and our friends are able to do the same, and that if they ever find themselves in a restaurant with poor service, they simply smile and remember Greg.