Relationships

Stories of Love and Loss: Sarah

| 04/28/2020

Illustration by Sophi Gullbrants

Suffering the death of a partner is part of many people’s experience—so common yet so distinct to each partnership and to each person. In this three-part series, Love and Loss, we bring you three stories from people who lost their partner to illness: first how they fell for each other, then how death separated them, then the navigation through the foggy landscape that followed. If you’ve experienced a loss and think your story could help someone else, feel free to share it in the comments section. 

Sarah

Mike was my fiancé. We took this amazing road trip out West where we drove from San Francisco all the way to Portland, camping along the way. We got close to Portland and he decided we were going to drive up to Mount Hood for a hike. During the hike, Mike was really dragging. So I turned around to see what was going on and as soon as I got to him he dropped down to both his knees and was holding up this ring. I remember looking at him, he was panting and he’s like “I love you so much. I just want to spend the rest of my life with you” trying to get all of this out. I remember my mind just being like “That’s pretty. Did you find that on the ground?” I was so confused by what was happening and then it finally dawned on me that he was proposing. Of course I said yes. Then I’m down on my knees in the dirt and we’re just hugging it out. After that, we were just so happy. 

About a month later, back in Brooklyn, he began complaining about this stomach pain and this little bit of a swelling he was having. I remember sending him to my doctor at the time, who I called Dr. Baywatch because he was one of these really svelte looking Ken Doll doctors. He essentially did a mono test and sent him home. Then the doctor went on safari for like two weeks but Mike still had this pain. In the meantime, we were hit with Hurricane Sandy, so the entire city just shut down. There was a gas shortage, taxis weren’t running, buses weren’t running, subways weren’t running. We were kind of stranded in Brooklyn and his pain was just getting worse and worse. So I finally got on the phone and started calling friends and looking for people with cars with enough gas to just drive him to the nearest Urgent Care. 

We had gone out to clean out his dad’s house which got really wrecked by Hurricane Sandy. We dragged out a bunch of wet furniture and I wound up getting sick, so I didn’t go with him to Urgent Care. I was home and a couple hours later I got a call that they found something, it wasn’t good and they were sending him to the closest hospital. There was no way for me to get there because I didn’t have a car and we didn’t have subways or buses or anything else. Finally, a friend came and picked me up and drove me there. 

After losing a partner, you just want someone to hold you, but the one person you want isn’t there.

We were in the hospital for about 5 days not really knowing what was going on. Finally, we had a specialist come in and talk to us. Mike had Stage 4 cancer. It had started as an ocular melanoma, a cancer in his eye. Your eyes share the same blood supply as your liver, so it had already metastasized to his liver. It was in his kidneys, his spine, just kind of traveling all over.

We were together for two years when we got engaged. We were together for another two years while he was sick. We never got married, but we were just absolutely in love. He was my best friend. He was the greatest love of my life. The kind with finishing your sentences, and having the same jokes. Our inner children were out to play when we were together. It was a really big loss. 

It was interesting getting engaged. I think that the thing that people don’t often talk about is that there’s often a little bit of a mourning process in getting engaged. As much as I loved him, it was such a big decision like, “Oh this is the person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.” It can feel like you have to mourn all the other choices that won’t be possible because you’ve decided on this path for yourself. So, I think I was struggling with that and then a month later we found out he was sick and the love I felt for him just exponentially increased. It solidified our bond, but here we are engaged but then dealing with cancer. It wasn’t pretty all the time and it was hard. I was his primary caregiver. 

After losing a partner, you just want someone to hold you, but the one person you want isn’t there.

About 3 months after he passed away I went online. I had never been that kind of person to just want casual sex. I was always in monogamous relationships and long-term relationships. I think I just really wanted to have some physical connection. It had been almost 2 years since I’d had sex. I hadn’t really felt beautiful, I had just been cleaning up, working really hard, playing nurse and best friend and partner, but I didn’t really feel sexy. 

I don’t feel like I’m trying to replace him, but I’m not willing to settle for less than what I had. 

So, I went online. I matched with this guy. We met up and had a really nice time. We wound up making out on the street and I was like “Oh my god, we need somewhere to go.” So, I wound up sleeping with him on the first night. I didn’t really think I was gonna hear from him again because I had always heard if you sleep with guys on the first date they don’t want to date. That wasn’t really what I was looking for, anyway. But he kept contacting me. 

We saw each other more and more. I think in hindsight, in retrospect, what I had with him was a trauma bond, where you bond with someone strongly because of some kind of a trauma. He was dealing with his own traumas but he definitely swooped in. 

I felt sexy, I felt alive, I felt free, I felt fun. He was very social and so we’d go out to bars and everyone would know who we were. It felt like suddenly I was embraced by this whole community and it became a really beautiful form of escape. He definitely was taking really great care of me. 

About 6 months in I felt like I wasn’t allowed to mourn or be sad or miss Mike. I felt like I had to hold that all back inside to make this new guy feel comfortable. We would often have these arguments, where he’d be like “I feel like you’re still in love with him” and “I can’t compete with a ghost.” I would say “There’s enough love in my heart for both of you” and try and make him understand, but I don’t think you can get someone to understand if they’re not willing to. So of course, that didn’t really work out. 

I haven’t had a serious relationship since then. It’s been about 6 years since Mike died. I’ve tried to date here and there, but either there’s just not a connection or it’s just not working out for one reason or another. I had the most amazing love of my life. I don’t feel like I’m necessarily trying to replace him but I’m not willing to settle for less than what I had. 

I’m not closed off to the idea of finding another love, but I have found in the past few years that the most important love to seek is the love of myself. I’ve been doing a lot of work on falling in love with myself, getting to know what I like, what I’m into, what excites me, doing the things that I want to do and really just enjoying that. I think that the more I lean into my own unique self-expression and self-appreciation the more I feel like I’m calling in the energy of the person who’s truly going to align with what’s going to feel like a supportive partnership.

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