By Joyce and Barry Vissell
What if Joyce dies before me? This is one of my greatest vulnerabilities.
Sure, I could die first. Statistically, women live longer than men; yet this is not my vulnerability. My dying first brings up other feelings, like abandoning my true love; not being there to help her when she needs me. Of course, I know I’ll always be there for her, just without a body. I have full faith that in the realm of soul, I’ll be even more present for her, without the distractions here on earth.
Even though we’re both healthy in the important ways, we are still 70 years old. We are now in our senior years. Death of our bodies is no longer something that can be ignored.
Why is Joyce’s passing such a deep vulnerability for me? It’s because of how much I need her. In our early years together, I tried hard not to need her. I was fine with loving her. But need, that’s a different story. To need Joyce would prove my inadequacy as a human being; yet need her I did. Eventually I could no longer fool myself; I had to face my inadequacy, my dependence, my weakness. I received a bonus; by accepting my dependence on Joyce, I am becoming a stronger man (yes, it’s an ongoing work). By pushing away my need, I was weakening myself. By pushing away my humanity, I was also pushing away my spirituality. It’s a package deal; you can’t have one without the other.
With fuller awareness of my need for Joyce, and opening to the fully human part of me, the thought of her death is a scary thing. In my deepest vulnerability, I feel like a lost child, unprotected by the warmth of Joyce’s tender love. I see myself wandering the earth, unprotected by her loving arms, and making decisions without her feminine wisdom.
My higher mind knows I can survive, even thrive. I know I will call upon her soul night and day, maintaining a spiritual connection. My soul knows our profound connection cannot be lost after one person’s transition.
The grief I envision is not only the grief of a child; it is also my adult self that would dearly miss my best friend in all the world. On a recent solo backpacking trip, I saw more clearly the joy that Joyce brings to my life. It’s even in her name! When I’m alone, I’m more serious. I have peace, quiet, and contentment, but not joy. The joy comes from being with Joyce.
Some of the happiest moments of our lives together have been in nature. Not just being together, but sharing God’s natural beauty with my beloved. When I see Joyce being thrilled by a stunning sunset, or the reflected light on a pool of water, my own heart is more thrilled by her reaction than what we are observing. How I would miss that!
I would miss our physical togetherness. We have a special ritual before going to sleep every night; we call it “pit time.” We’ve done it for decades. I raise my arm, and she snuggles into my armpit with her leg around mine. It’s delightfully comforting for both of us. I would especially miss our sexual connection, the wonderful union of our bodies; yet I would miss just as much the little physical connections, holding hands while walking or praying, and all the little touches we give one another.
I would deeply miss the way she “plays” with me; she teases me with such sensitivity and love. A few weeks ago, we were leading a workshop in Assisi, Italy. I was telling the group about a special place we were about to visit. I said, “And if we’re lucky, we can be there at a time when there are no tourists.” Joyce caught a subtle expression of distaste on my face, a slightly wrinkled nose, and a quick downward pointing gesture of my fingers, when I said the word tourists. It was so quick that no one else in the room seemed to notice. Joyce could have ignored it, but it was too rich a moment. She stopped me, and pointed out what I had done, in a way that helped me see the humor in my actions. It became a precious moment for the whole group, as it illuminated an unconscious judgement I held for tourists. It became a delightful inside joke for the whole group. We began to notice and bless those wonderful throngs of tourists who mingled with us during outings, while many in the group mimicked my wrinkled nose and downward pointing fingers. I loved it all!
I occasionally practice a very unusual meditation, one that I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone practice with a loved one. I face my worst fear, that of Joyce dying. I let it play out as a conscious nightmare; I see it happening; I let myself go through all five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. I feel as deeply as possible my life without Joyce, alone in our bed without “pit time,” eating meals alone, coming home to an empty house, and trying to take care of her beloved rose bushes without her loving touch.
To end there would be only a morbid meditation. The next step in the meditation is crucial: I then open to her ever-present soul. I feel her pouring her love into me night and day without end. I feel her more with me than ever, undistracted by her busy life on earth. This gives me great comfort. It is after these special meditations that I approach my beloved Joyce with more openness, vulnerability, and love than usual. My appreciation of her has blossomed, and she thoroughly delights in it.
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world's top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of many inspirational books. Write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings, or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their website at: SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.