This is a post in two parts. I didn’t know how to separate them…
She reached out to me in November, her heart dreading what I might tell her. Sheena and Deanne, my wife who died, were once inseparable comrades in friendship and a little mischief. The early 90s were their heyday. Both Sheena and Deanne were outgoing and beautiful young women.
They’d lost touch. I don’t remember that Deanne told me why other than she often told stories about her friends and the shenanigans and moments she lived before meeting me. As anyone knows, the first few months of getting to know someone is a sublime pleasure filled with stories and insights. We immerse ourselves into the unknown universe of someone else’s life as we get to know them. Deanne was almost ten years younger than me. Despite that, she had a lot of stories to tell and a large family to fill the spaces of her life. I already knew her brother Mark thanks to our jobs at Cargill.
Sheena said she’d seen Deanne once in April of 2001 when Sheena was giving birth to her daughter. Deanne worked at the hospital and surprised Sheena with an impromptu visit. Evidently, it was one filled with smiles and quick words. Sheena did not see her again. But she always wanted to and wondered where Deanne was in the world.
As so often happens when we get older, we think about the people who once touched us. Some of them drift away purposefully; others drift for other reasons. The truth is that some people have a room in our hearts even when we no longer see them. It’s one of life’s bittersweet lessons.
Sheena found an obituary for Deanne. I’d dutifully left a trail of her life and some of her stories on Ancestry and other places. People need to be remembered. Sheena told me that she cried reading it, knowing that her hopes of reconnecting were gone forever. I felt an immense pang of regret on her behalf. Deanne would have lovingly hugged Sheena had she had the chance. She loved a good grudge, but she loved connections more. One of Deanne’s foibles was how quickly she could get irritated. It was a blessing to her in some ways, too, though. As I grew to know her, her ire often made me laugh. She’d punch me in the arm and laugh, too, once the ridiculousness of the situation became apparent.
Sheena ultimately revealed that their friendship probably ruptured because she had told Deanne that we were not compatible. Deanne made up her mind about me very early on. I’m not sure I was consulted!
Sheena reached out to me on Ancestry, and I shared my entire picture collection with her, thousands of pictures – and every picture I owned of Deanne. She was able to sort through Deanne’s short life, as told in pictures. Later, I shared a few stories with her, ones some people have never read or heard.
More importantly, I gave Sheena peace. I let her know that she should feel happy that Deanne and I found each other and stayed together, even when it wasn’t easy. We all do and say things when we’re younger – and often continue the same when we’re older. And if she said the things she said to Deanne with an authentic heart, she should not be accountable for sharing her opinion or truth. That’s the risk of being genuine with other people.
The truth is that Deanne and I weren’t compatible at first glance. Or probably second glance. In that sense, Sheena was definitely not wrong. Deanne was an outgoing, buxom, active soul, almost ten years younger than me. I had no clue she was interested in me. Until she insisted I come over for a homemade meal. Believe me, I was not the one wearing the pants at the beginning of the relationship. Call me oblivious.
Sheena got to see Deanne’s life because I am committed to sharing every picture I own with anyone interested. I’m just the custodian. I love pictures, and I love knowing that people always come full circle with wanting to see every picture of someone they love or loved. Avoiding the soapbox, I will limit myself to saying that unappreciated or unseen pictures do no one any good.
I still feel a bit of remorse for both Deanne and Sheena. They could have reconnected. Had I been aware, I would have asked Deanne to look past any past words and find Sheena again. I did the same with Deanne’s dad. Deanne doubted she could forge a new beginning with him. Through the years, though, I encouraged her to try from a new foundation. And she did. I still count it as one of the best things I’ve ever accomplished. More so because she died so young.
I hope Sheena found a way to fill her life with new souls. She seems like the kind of person who deserves it. Her words to Deanne so many years ago would have been received differently had I known at the time.
After Deanne died, I didn’t have a big interval of time before I met Dawn, my ex-wife. Whether you can understand or not, I made the choice to plow through life and not let myself get overwhelmed with the loss. When we first got together, I had her meet Deanne’s brother and his wife. I wanted them to know that me getting on with life didn’t negate Deanne. Quite the contrary. I had to make a choice, one that wasn’t really a choice at all. Things could have ended very badly for me. If you’ve lived a life with loss, you can imagine what some of those endings might look like for me. There’s no shame in acknowledging them.
It’s not a choice a lot of people might make. I make no apologies, though. Dawn and I were together when we were very young. She’d had an intervening marriage, one that fizzled and ground down into apathy. We were happy to find each other again.
Deanne never was between Dawn and me. At least not for me. She wasn’t a ghost, but she was a catalyst and reminder for me, something that people misunderstand. When life snatches your optimism through mortality, there are a lot of impossible feelings. This amplifies when you consider how capricious life can be; anyone or anything can disappear at any moment. Deanne deserved more years to continue her journey. She was substantially different from the time when we first met. And that was a great thing to witness. I try to remember to be grateful for the years I had with her. The song always ends, leaving us with a melody we can replay in our heads through memories.
At the risk of repeating myself, one of my biggest mistakes in life has been to occasionally forget the lesson that Deanne’s death dealt me: life is for the living, obstacles will always punch, and love is never wasted, no matter how it ends.
It’s true I shared fewer stories about Deanne than I should have. I did make the mistake of not writing all the stories of adventure and mischief I had with Deanne. And also some about our hard times. We definitely had them. As Dawn and I disintegrated, she seemed to switch the narrative on me about how it was with Deanne. Whether that’s true or not is in the eye of the beholder. I made a choice – as did she. I’d make the same choice again because a choice to live and love is a positive choice; fearing another loss and avoiding taking the risk is a negative choice.
Someone reminded me this morning not to veer. Since she’s a disguised writer, I’m obligated to heed her warning.
Every love is forged with expansiveness and optimism. That we can’t navigate the treachery of daily living and one another’s messes isn’t a knock to love or vulnerability, though. The problem lies within us. Familiarity breeds contempt. We assign motive to actions or words, usually based on our faulty filters. It’s hilariously evident that most of us want the same things.
When love has drawn its last breath, it is easy to focus on the things that were wrong.
When a person draws their last breath, all the doors are shut forever.
Whether you are 31 or 71, the door is always about to shut. We just don’t see it coming. That helps us to forget how precarious our lives are. That same forgetfulness affords us the ability to live our daily lives but it also has the reciprocal defect of failing to focus on what lights us up.
For Sheena, for Deanne, and for anyone who no longer walks the Earth, we can do our best by choosing optimism over despair, deliberate risk over comfort, and for being ourselves, even as the world madly surprises us.
Deanne would tell us that all these years she’s been gone that she would hope we were squeezing the absolute hell out of whatever life has to offer – and shame on us if we aren’t.
She would have loved to be alive and make a lot of mistakes. We should be too. She’d be the first to call me out for being an idiot. And she’d mean it.