Thursday, September 11, 2008

Happy Birthday, My Love

Today is Walter's birthday.

Running through my head is an old song, being an earworm today:
It's my party and I'll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to
Cry if I want to
You would cry too if it happened to you!
Ah, youth! In the song the singer is betrayed by her boyfriend, who brazenly gives his ring to another girl right at the first girl's birthday party.

Which isn't, of course, why Walter's birthday triggered that earworm.

It's having the anniversary of his birth turn into something far different from the day of innocent happiness it used to be. He's better now than early on, but it's still depressing, I think. It looks to me like he's working hard to stay reasonably cheerful today. You see, though, he's working at it. Because it's impossible to forget what happened in 2001.

Some people say that those who died on 9/11 *gave* their lives that day.

No. They did not.

Their lives were stolen, because they were murdered in cold blood. Soldiers and sailors and cops and such, those men and women give their lives if they die while serving a country and its people. They make a conscious choice to assume that risk when they sign up for whatever service they join.

We all die in the end. If we're very lucky, we live long and healthy lives. But most of us have to grapple with the mundane pain and ordinary terrifying risk of life-threatening illnesses some time along the way.

When Walter had his near-fatal heart attack, he didn't know, at first, what was happening. He called me on his cell phone, and it was only by luck that I answered. By the time it was all over, my father and I had both overstepped our strong family beliefs in self-governance. We'd harassed and bothered the poor man until he finally agreed to call 911.

If he had not, he would have died there in his truck. As it was, it took many months for him to understand and accept how very close he'd come to dying.

And how precarious his remaining life had become.

Me, I want to live forever. When my time comes they'll probably have to drag me kicking and screaming through the door. I don't much care, in the final analysis, how sick I am or how bad things hurt. If I know I still have a chance to get out and see some beautiful flowers and birds and lizards and neighbors, to listen to music, the sounds of the outdoors or the music of the spheres, whatever it may be - if life still holds any pleasures at all for me, I want to hang on and enjoy them.

We're all different. I learned some time ago, and rather to my shock back then, that not everyone feels that way about life.

I've always understood that in extreme pain or loss, or in the face of terminal illness, a person may choose not to continue. My beliefs in our right of sovereignty over our bodies have always held: we have an absolute right to choose when to live and when to die. Choosing the manner of our death - should we be so fortunate to have the opportunity - may be one of the greatest freedoms we have in life.

What startled me was realizing the number of people who simply don't mind dying when the time comes. I wasn't expecting that.

I guess up until then, I'd pretty much grouped people in either the *terrified to die* or *embracing death* camps. I love life. That's one starting point. I hate death. So between those two, you could toss me into the *terrified* camp. It's not really terror, it's more abhorrence, but that's close enough.

Walter always told me he doesn't care. When it's time to go, it's time. My grandmother Helen was the same way; she had a *do not resuscitate* order for years towards the end of her life. I'm not saying I wouldn't do that too, given the right circumstances; but I'd sure wait until I was way far gone first.

When Walter had his heart attack, then learned his remaining life was easily forfeit, he had decisions to make. Want to live on? Quit smoking, lose weight, eat healthier, exercise more. All those happy-talk *Heart Healthy!* things people are supposed to do if they want to live far longer than heart attack patients did in the past.

He didn't care. He said it wasn't worth it to him to give up so many things he enjoyed. He'd rather keep on living as before, and go early.

I gave this a long hard think.

Because, you see, I don't much want to live without him.

And after I'd thought and thought about it, I made a decision not so very different from the one that got Walter to call 911.

I explained how I didn't want to live without him. That if he didn't care about his life, I did. And I laid on every motivator I had at hand.

His daughters in Europe, who have never *met* their father as grown women; haven't seen him since they were 7 and 4 years old. I explained that even though he's truly back in their lives now, still they need to see their father, talk to him in person, spend time with him. Watch his face as he tells them his stories of their childhood.

I told him what my life would be like without him. I used images and language and phrases and concepts I usually keep out of our conversations, even the most serious ones. I was graphic.

Essentially, this was a very selfish thing to do. Pure self-interest. I love him. I want him. I need him.

Meaning I want him to stay alive. For my sake.

I knew what telling him all this would do to him. It would take away his comfort level with his own death. This is not a particularly nice thing to do, when you think about it.

It worked. Now he's conscious of his mortality, and does not want to die.

That hurt him.

His capitulation has given me the greatest gift he can. Every single birthday he sees means he's survived another year, which means I've been able to indulge in the joy of his company for another year, too.

So. Happy Birthday, my love. It's your birthday, the day we usually think about what we want to give you. Instead?

Thank you for the gift you gave me.


SeaPhoenix said...

Bravo...helluva read tonight, K..."And the Pulitzer goes to..."

Granny J said...

k, you made me almost cry -- and that takes some doing. Wishes for a wonderful birthday for Walter -- and many more, just for you.

Desert Cat said...

What startled me was realizing the number of people who simply don't mind dying when the time comes. I wasn't expecting that.

I am the same way. Or at least I have been. Maybe I'm a little bit changed in this regard. And maybe it's about what (if anything) we believe happens after we die.

Still, I'd rather not let go of people if they can be persuaded to stay. Sure it's selfish, but maybe love is inherently selfish at some level--even the kind that lets go still yearns for the return of the beloved.

Pretty Lady said...

Happy Birthday, Walter!

K, I'm glad to see that you will fight for your own happiness--even fight dirty.

I think that I don't mind dying when the time comes. What I mind is dying before I've accomplished what I set out to do, and leaving people behind prematurely who love me.

When I was attacked by a gang in a ghetto, getting smeared into the asphalt, the thought uppermost in my mind was, 'I CAN'T die now, because it would destroy my family.' Also, they were beating up my friend; I had to make sure she got away. In that moment--senses reeling, half losing consciousness--I felt most clearly how I was integrally connected with others, and how that network must not be ripped apart just yet.

To value others is to value oneself, and vice versa. Anyone who places either excessive weight or excessive indifference on one or the other is suffering from a distorted perspective.

da Pup : me said...

Bravo, K...

Happy Birthday Walter!

Oh...I am so tired..... Almost done and all done in. Thankfully we have a neighbor who helped with some of it. Just have to finish picking up some trash.

k said...

SeaPhoenix, what a fine blogson you are! Thank you.

And Granny J. I think you understand my greed.

DC, another thing that caught me off guard was the number of *don't much mind* people that either aren't convinced there's an afterlife, or outright disbelieve it. I understand far better when we feel we're just changing this earthly existence for the next, whether it's by heaven, rebirth, what have you.

Pretty Lady, having experienced and survived such a brutal assault - or perhaps two of them - surely impacts one's outlook. About self-defense, safety, mortality, our place in the here and now. That spider-web strong and delicate sense of interconnection.

I have the same feeling about not being finished yet, not having accomplished certain things that matter very much to me. That's what disturbs me far more than losing the joy of life, those times when I brush too close once again. I'm Not Done. I am NOT.

Accepting that I have a right to be happy, and then accepting the task of working towards happiness as a goal - that was a big turning point. To value others is to value oneself, and vice versa. Took me quite a while to get there.

Nancy, I'm intensely relieved to hear from you. I'm stepping out now for a drive, too antsy to stay in. Sometimes it's worse watching over someone else's approaching hurricane.

And sometimes that exhaustion after your preps are done can be a good thing.

I'll be watching, okay? I know there's some time still. When I get back I'll be keeping my Weather Channel interactive map up, refreshing it as needed, perhaps all night. As long as you can, try to keep up updated, if you would.

That is, if you're not doing like my Babycat did for Wilma, and taking a nap...

I'm thinking of all of you, and looking back just on this one thread of comments, I realize almost every single one of you has suffered a major loss, of the life of someone very close to you, in the last year or two. Jan, too. Walter. Others.

You are brave people. You hang on and work through it all so well, and I admire the hell out of you for it.