Often times we as humans try to avoid hard things, especially when we start going into very personal areas that we would just as soon forget, or hope we never have to face. As is evident by some of Michelle's posts, she was not one to hold back, and she was willing to talk about the trials of her life, because she believed that facing the past and learning from it was better than sweeping it under the rug. So when it came time to face mortality, she didn't hold back from facing the questions of "what now" and "what next."
There are things, in my opinion, every couple needs to talk about. You need to talk about your dreams, what you want for your future, and how you hope to accomplish it together with the one you love. You need to openly communicate how your significant other could better support you, find out how to support them in their endeavors, or how to help them overcome their challenges. You need to talk about what to do when it all goes terribly, terribly wrong, when all your hopes and dreams are obliterated before your eyes. I am grateful that while Michelle and I talked about some things prior to her diagnosis, we had the time to discuss it all before she passed. Some of you will not have that time. For some it will be in the blink of an eye and your spouse, your significant other, your partner, the person you planned to build a life with, will be left alone picking up the pieces of what is left from your passing. Perhaps something will occur that leaves you sick. Even if you believe you will recover, do not deny them the knowledge of what to do if you don't. Do not leave them without a safety net; do not leave them with questions for which they are unable to find answers. Do not pile on more then they will already be faced with, and don’t leave them shackled and unable to move forward.
Michelle and I got to talk about all of it, our hopes and fears for the future. The hope that she would live a long and happy life free of cancer, that her treatments would work, that miracles would take place, that she could hold on till scientific breakthroughs could be made. But we also talked about what to do if it all went wrong, how she wanted us to handle things if the cancer spread and started shutting down organs, and if she suffered seizures and was left in a deteriorated state. If she was on life support, how hard were we willing to fight, and at what point would the loss of quality of life make it so that the agony of treatments was not worth it? At what point does she stay at home, and when does she go into a care facility? If it all ended tomorrow, what did she see for me and the kids? Do we stay here or should we go somewhere else? What does she want the kids to know, and how should I move forward?
You have to start having these conversations, because you don't know when your end will come. But it doesn't mean that it is written in stone; you can change your mind about anything at any time. Just be honest about how you feel at that moment so that the one that loves you knows. What you will also find is that by keeping it all in and not sharing it, you have refused to lay it on the table where it can be thought about, discussed, and analyzed. We selfishly hold onto our fears, thinking that we are sparing each other difficult discussions, but what we are doing is denying the ones that love us the chance to more intimately know us, for our fears are hidden in the deepest recesses of who we are. You might find that as you reflect openly upon what you want that perhaps it is not what your spouse will need, and you will grow to put their needs ahead of yours, you will become selfless in your desire to give them the insight and freedom they will need to make decisions without you.
Michelle was adamant about not wanting a funeral. I had to convince her to let me hold one for the people that loved her so that they could grieve and share their condolences; she changed her mind and allowed me to do what I felt was best.
She said she didn't want to pass at home, but in the end she changed her mind and was able to be with us until the end.
She wanted me to stay right where I am, at least until our youngest daughter graduates high school so that she can be on the drill team like her older sister, so she can continue to dance at her studio, and so that the kids can stay close to the friends and church members that can help them remember their mother. I am holding to that desire and have no plans to leave the home we built together.
But one of the most important decisions she made, and one that went through a huge evolution, requires a bit of a lesson to explain. We'll call this LDS Marriage 101.
LDS MArriage 101
So Michelle and I are both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our beliefs were a driving force in our marriage. It was our shared faith in Jesus Christ and in His restored gospel that helped us to weather countless storms, including her cancer battle, if you aren’t aware of the many other battles go read our joint blog entry about Mawage. Now an LDS marriage has some unique traits. You see when Michelle was a young woman she went to the open house at the San Diego Temple, and it was at that moment that she knew that someday she would get sealed in that temple.
An LDS marriage or sealing is different from other marriages in that it is not "till death do us part," but rather it is for "time and all eternity." This is why we refer to ourselves as eternal companions. You see we make a covenant between ourselves and God that if we are worthy we can be together eternally. Now on July 6, 1999, Michelle and I entered this magnificent house of the Lord and together entered into that covenant. It is for this reason that though she has left this mortal life, I still feel a deep connection to her and continue to communicate with her and ask for her guidance, and why I have felt her presence guiding me forward.
So what does this have to do with talking out everything? Well you may not like it, but depending on your age there is a good chance that if you leave your spouse behind, they will at some point desire to have someone in their life and to not be lonely. Michelle knew this and at the beginning of her battle, was very open with me. Initially she said that she didn't necessarily like the idea of me remarrying, but that she knew I would need a companion and that the children would need a mother figure. She wanted them to have someone that would show them love, and with whom I could give them a daily example of how to care for someone, so that they would know what a healthy relationship looked like as they went out to find their own. She discussed with me her fear for the younger ones that their memories of seeing Mommy and Daddy interacting would not be as fresh in their minds as she wanted them to be. But she also did not want to be forgotten, and so we talked about the fact that anyone that came after her would have to be strong enough to have her pictures on the walls and to allow open talks about Michelle. One thing she did not want was me getting sealed to another woman—you see we are able to expand that partnership to include someone else, but she didn't like the idea. Fair enough, she gave me twenty-two amazing years, so honoring these wishes was the least I could do.
Six months later we discussed it again, and this time she said she no longer had reservations about me remarrying as long as she was remembered by her children. She still voiced her desire that I not get sealed, which implied that if the time came I should look for a widow who had her own eternal companion, but she did open up the door that if I couldn't find a widow after much searching, a sealing could be an option, even though she didn't like the idea. After that I didn't think too much about it. She supported me moving forward and had some restrictions; again it seemed a fair compromise.
But six months before she passed, out of the blue, she looked me in the eyes, pointed her finger at me and said, "If you find someone that isn't sealed, you get sealed to her. She'll need it, you'll need it, and Heavenly Father will explain it all to me and take care of any reservations that I have."
Unless you share our faith, you have no idea what that means. My wife opened up the door for there to be another person in our partnership. She opened the door to have someone that would be on equal footing to her. She knew what a blessing it was to be sealed, how that could strengthen a marriage, and she gave me the option to extend that blessing to someone else. This is why I added “Be Selfless” to this entry’s title. You have every right to share with the person you love the desires that you have for them and the fears of the things that you would rather they avoid. But once you start talking, you might discover that what you want may place restrictions upon how they are able to live their lives. It is worse to have no answers, then to have answers with some strings attached. They will be accepting of some restrictions, but to be selfless in your hopes and dreams for them will bring you closer together in the time that you have—be it a day or fifty years.
I debated sharing this deep and intimate point, but I feel it exemplifies the level of selflessness that Michelle achieved, that we can all achieve, when we put the ones we love ahead of ourselves. I don’t know what will be hardest for you to discuss. I don’t know what keeps you up at night worrying about how the ones you love will move forward, or how they will remember you. I just know that in that moment, I knew she loved me so deeply that she was willing to exercise faith that her Father would take away her fears and her concerns.
After this talk it became easy for her to discuss what kind of person she wanted for her successor. We even got duped into watching a Netflix movie where the lead female character has cancer, and prior to her passing, takes out a wanted ad and starts interviewing for her replacement. At the end of that movie, and after a ridiculous amount of tears, I had to turn to her and tell her, "Don't you dare." To which she promised not to let her type A personality drive her to do such a thing now, but that she planned to get to work on it ASAP when the time came. She started to share with me what she knew I was going to need in a wife, which was much different from her. She knows me better than anyone and she made it a priority to think about my future as I worried about her present. Some of our talks bordered on what most people would probably call morbid, but we knew that in the end, we would have no regrets. We would know each other completely.
I don’t know what you need to talk about, and in the end, maybe your spouse won’t heed every word you say. I still have the couch she made me promise to get rid of; it seemed like a funny last request that I get rid of a piece of furniture, but she made sure to leave that one hanging over my head. Thanks, Shelly, now I can’t go into my family room without remembering that promise, and I’ll have to make plans to replace the stupid thing at some point. But whatever you have to discuss, discuss it.
Understand you’ve had an impact in their lives; you will live on in them. They are not going to move on without you, they will carry you with them. But you can enable them to move forward, one step at a time. If you give them this gift, their love for you will remain, and believe it or not, it might even grow. At this point it has been almost six months since Michelle returned home, and I can honestly say without any reservation that I love her more deeply today. I thought standing beside her till the end that I had hit my limit, that the degree to which I loved her in that moment was the highest level I would reach. I was so wrong. The depth to which love can go is infinite. So open all the doors. Put it all out on the table. Deny the one you love nothing. If you get fifty more years, then you will have fifty years with no walls between you. If it ends tomorrow, all doors will be opened to a love that burns eternal.
So what's your dance break at the end of this post, well I had to consult Michelle's phone because I was at a bit of a loss. This one suddenly appeared at the top of a list and you know what it seems fitting while being fun, I'll take that as a sign.
My name is Michelle Kaley but I have many other names.....Daughter, Sister, Wife of 20 years to my High School Sweetheart, Mom to my 4 Beautiful Children, Ms. Michelle to my hundreds of Students, and as of 2016 Cancer Patient was added to the list.