Thursday, June 25, 2009

Love and Sadness: A Two-Sided Coin

Hours in a hospital room provide ample time to think. I sit, again, watching my mother sleeping. The sounds of the Heart Hospital softly surround me - monitors chiming, nurses quietly talking, doctors rushing past - and I'm sad.

Not for my mother. She's going to be fine - better than she's been in a long time - because her new pacemaker is functioning beautifully and we no longer have to worry about her heart losing its regular rhythm.

Instead, I'm sad for all those people who never experience the inconvenience of love. There are so many people in the world today who never know the connection of true love, and I think their lives must be thin, like the skin on the top of heated milk, instead of rich cream that floats. From the outside, those lives look similar; but the rich texture of cream, thick and almost chewy, is only superficially similar to the thin, sticky film that covers milk.

Until you experience the connection to siblings who pull together to take care of a parent, or an understanding, compassionate spouse who takes up the slack when your attention is focused elsewhere, or a parent who's scared that he might lose his love of over half a century ... you can't know the depths, the complexity of life.

I have a relative who was never close to his parents (an abusive father and a mother who allowed it), whose first wife died suddenly when his son was an early teen, and who can't understand why his current wife feels compelled to help out her parents when they need help. He gets angry at her that it takes away from her career, her "me time," their "couple time." He simply can't understand why she wants to be needed and why she wants to help. To him, taking care of "number one" is the ultimate goal.

How sad for him, I think, not to have to sacrifice a day of pleasure, not to lie awake occasionally worrying about a loved one, not to choose to give up a relaxing dinner at a trendy restaurant for cold hospital food, and not to give up achieving yet another career goal because an ailing family member simply wants to hold his hand.

Can you have joy without knowing sadness? Can you experience success without failure? Can you know love without heartache? How can you judge the height of a peak unless you experience the depth of a valley?

I just walked past a large group in the waiting room. They were obviously all members of the same family, at least eight people closely collected, waiting for a good word about a loved one. I can bet that each of those people had someplace else they need to be, but here they are, gathered together on a Thursday afternoon. While their faces showed anxiety, worry, and fear, there were other emotions there as well: love, joy at being together, closeness from sharing a common ordeal. Whatever their outcome today, they'll always have that connection, knowing that they all cared enough to come together to share the burden of overcoming an obstacle. They'll have that memory.

A couple of years ago, my aunt passed away, and I decided to go to her funeral. My cousins and my sister and I had been close as kids, but I hadn't seen them in decades. While the funeral was a somber occasion, the meal afterward was a time of joy. We celebrated my aunt's life, we caught up on each others' lives, and we reconnected in a way we hadn't in thirty years. Without that family attachment, I would have missed out on getting to re-know some remarkable people.

Sadness ... love ... two sides of a coin. I'm glad I have a bunch of those in my pocket, and I'm fortunate that most of them land heads up.

If you liked this post, you might like The Inconvenience of Love

Photo by ICMA Photos from here


  1. Beautifully said, here's a poem that recognizes that both sides of the coin are essential.

  2. This's part of the essence of Hindu and Biddhist philosophy. There's a word in Buddhism for "everlasting smile" I heard about from my friend. And that's the name she's given her daughter - Mihita. It means "One who smiles blissfully through sorrow and joy." It's the recognition that one is not possible without the other. To rise about BOTH, and recognize it's all illusion.

  3. I am so relieved to hear about your mother. I have been so worried - especially with your silence yesterday.

    Your line: "the connection to siblings who pull together to take care of a parent" is what is particularly torturous for an only child, like me, with aging parents. To have siblings to share that togetherness in times of joy and worry, is priceless.

  4. Such an absolutely beautiful, poignant post, Camille. And especially the part about siblings drawing together -- my experience is the opposite of Raji's (whom I feel for) ... my dad's protracted illness has produced a certain level of stress among us, sure, but more than that, has been the strengthening of our bond and the discovery of our capacity to be there for one another and come together to support our parents.