None of us can predict what will come our way on the rollercoaster of each lifetime. Lavender and Tanya wrote these love letters to each other to remember how they keep coming back, over and over, to a deep belief that love is stronger than fear. In their decade together they have navigated through pregnancy/baby loss, the beauty and magic of adding a living child to their family, and now a terminal cancer diagnosis (not to mention all the other ups and downs). Their love grows stronger because they are willing to keep learning and growing together, and their community of support rallies around them when the going gets rough. It is with humble gratitude that they share their words with you.
You are not the woman I fell in love with a decade ago.
I thought I loved you then, but I had no idea what love could be, I had no idea the depth of love I would find with you as our lives exploded, dreams crushed and deemed impossible, as we picked ourselves up over and over again. The dust never really brushes away, the scars still twinge and zing sometimes, and yet, my heart only grows bigger, holding more, ready for anything.
When our babies died, I wondered at times if you would come back to me. I tried to keep things together, protect your tenderness while it healed. I screwed up. I lost my patience with you. With the process of grief. With the unknown of it all. I put myself between you and the harshness of those who were more afraid than me. I pushed you too hard when I too was afraid. I pushed myself harder. You did your own thing through it all. You tumbled and fell. And got back up again. You never did come back to me. The woman you became after was not the you I had known before. But I found that I loved her, too. I learned her nuances and learned to dance with her, as I had danced with the you from before. Her raw and tender scars needed to be tended and watched. As they got tougher, you did too. There was a new determination to you, a new steadiness. This would come in handy.
As time moved on, we wove our way through so much joy and pain: Infertility, the struggles of step parenting, the building of close friendships and community around us, the legalization of queer marriage, and our fabulous wedding.
Things appeared to settle a couple years ago, stability looked like a possibility with a new baby on the way, my chronic pain finally managed, and a new career in the works for me.
Cedar arrived. A bundle of love and healing for us. We learned a new kind of love. Our family had been tied up with a rainbow ribbon and tucked in a basket of bliss (and dirty diapers and sleepless nights).
And then it all exploded again. When I look back over this last year, I am in awe at your ability to move through these days. That steadiness I mentioned earlier? It’s real handy now. My body demands my full attention, my mind is lost in looking for answers and getting things in order. But my heart doesn’t question the stability of us. My heart rests in that love we have built through laughter and tears.
We’ve been through so many impossibles. Burying a child (and surviving the grief of it). Getting married (the legalization of same-sex marriage!). The easy and healthy birth of another child (a donated embryo from across the country!). A decade together (who lasts that long anymore?). I have no doubt in my heart that we will get through this journey of my impossible metastatic cancer, too!! Keep being impossible with me, my love.
My dearest Lavender,
I have never been able to love with trepidation, which would be akin to singing with laryngitis. Instead, I go wildly bounding into love; rolling in it, reveling in the heady rush, not thinking of what is to come. Giving myself over fully to that which elevates my spirit and brings out delight and desire for living. I remember one night in my early 20s lying in bed taking stock of my strengths and weaknesses. “I am good at loving,” I declared to all the unseen forces in the room.
I am, and so are you. And it is that which has held us together. Over and over we have been buffeted by forces that attempt to pull us apart: Shifting family structures, work and career uncertainty and change, death, mental illness, addiction, physical illness, infertility, and cancer. Throughout it all, I have witnessed the power of love, our love for each other, our shared love with our children—those living and those not, and our love of, and from, our families and community of friends. Love transcends death. Love is stronger than fear.
So how do we continue to love? How do we stay open when the demons pick at our barely healed scars, and exhaustion and sorrow threaten to pull us into despondency? I heard somewhere that love is a verb. We must do the work of loving. Part of that work is acceptance.
This is what is. Three of our babies are dead. It doesn’t mean I like it. It means I see the truth of it and acknowledge that truth. You have kidney cancer. I accept it. This partly means that you and I are doing different work. I am preparing to say goodbye, to take care of the family, the finances, the house, in short—the work of the living. You are preparing to say goodbye to everything, dancing in an unfamiliar body, moving deeper into your heart and soul, preparing to die. Of course we hope and pray for a miracle, that you will be here to see the baby grow to adulthood, but you are doing the personal work you must do to be ready to leave when it is your time. Acceptance—we are on different paths. We are different people.
This was a gift you gave me when our babies died. You were hurting. Your grief was enormous, yet it was yours, different from mine. We grieved differently. We are different people grappling with acceptance. You have shown me great compassion. A part of my soul was torn away still connected to the little ones who had grown in me. I wept milk. I screamed and cried oceans of tears. I couldn’t ask for what I needed because I couldn’t articulate the rawness of my wound. I knew nothing that could fill that void. But in time, your acceptance of me, of my grief, which was only love, deep primal love with nowhere to go, helped anchor me in the land of the living.
I strive to show the same compassion to you as you engage with your changing body and the waves of pain and challenges cancer brings. Acceptance, compassion, and flexibility. We have to change with the changes. A weeping willow dancing in the wind.
None of this is easy, except for loving you. Loving you is as easy as sighing deeply while curling up in front of a warm fire. Loving you is as automatic as the beat of my heart. Yes, trauma and loss have changed us. But you have a seemingly endless well of patience that brought you back repeatedly to sit quietly beside me and hold my hand. And when we fight or pull apart, we both remain committed to the work of loving and call on resources and others who can help us find our way back to each other. Couples therapy has been a lifesaver, hasn’t it, my dear? It illustrates that one of our secrets to staying together is being open to help, being vulnerable. After all, when it seems you are losing everything, what more do you have to lose by opening to help?
We might be a couple, but deep down we are also pack animals. We need each other. I need other parents who have lost children. I need connection with others who have cared for loved ones with cancer. I need advice, support, hope, perspective, and definitely help maintaining a sense of humor. I am grateful for Gilda’s Club, which provides us with the opportunity to get support from others who are in similar shoes. They even provide childcare for Cedar, an enormous blessing for a tired family. Also, Bereaved Parents of Madison, an organization that has been there to connect us to others who parent children who live on in their hearts. These parents have shown us how our love can truly transcend death, how we can take our grief and turn it in to service, remembrance, and yes, even celebration that we are parents to all of our children. We are blessed to have access to these resources and more, and we know that we are privileged in so many ways.
And our love expands and expands, shared with our children and our friends and family. I am proud to have a grown foster daughter and stepson who model resilience and forgiveness to me. And a baby who surrounds me daily with wonder and delight. Our family proves that differences can be strengths and that simple traditions can provide security and include all of us, despite illness and death. We are a strong family. Our parents, too, have always been supportive of us as a couple and have given support to us in ways too numerous to mention. Our friends also recognize our bond and reach out to help when we ask for support.
And so we continue to love and to stay together as a couple in our love; to accept, be flexible, open, compassionate, and to come back together time and time again when we fight or drift apart in our separate worlds. At our wedding Shulamit sang Olam Chesed Yiboneh, “I will build this world with love…” and we do, over and over again, time after time.