8.1
Winner
November 28, 2022

The Truth of Real, Deep Love.

So much has been written about love.

There are books, movies, poems, quotes. There’s a whole industry focussed on “selling love.” Selling the fairy tale. Selling opinions. Selling the conditioning. Selling whatever people will buy. Whatever people will watch. Will read. Will listen to. Selling love like it’s some kind of commodity, and something people should search for and find. Something people need to have to complete them.

The reality is, all of this is a lie. It’s a whimsical fantasy. What they are selling is artificial romance, lust, limerence, their own insecurities, their own limited beliefs. They are selling fear because they know that many people are scared to be alone. And people buy into this conditioning, in the unhealthiest of ways.

But true love is none of those things. True love is a feeling and a commitment to another human being. It is courage and vulnerability. It is open and transparent. At its core, it’s honesty, pure honesty, no matter how painful honesty may be. It’s not something you can buy or search for. It’s something that happens. It’s raw and beautifully messy. It’s work. It’s compassion. It’s trusting you can be your raw self without judgement. If it’s real and true, it will never be perfect. It just is.

I would like to tell you a story. An undeniable love story. It’s not about bouquets of flowers and fancy dinners. It’s not about gifts or social media posts. It’s not about no arguments and ensuring everyone thinks you have the perfect marriage. It’s not about having sex a set number of times per week, or masculine and feminine energy. It’s about truth. It’s about hard conversations. It’s about difficult moments. It’s about being your authentic self. It’s about reality.

Don’t get me wrong. Dates and flowers are lovely, but they are not an indication of a strong and lasting love. That’s all surface stuff. We’ve become so accustomed to believing the superficial stuff equates to a loving and solid relationship. It doesn’t matter how good a relationship looks on the outside because the truth is what’s happening on the inside.

Don’t be fooled by what you hear and see; be honest about what you feel and want. See the truth not the façade. The depth of love is measured during the tumultuous times—when two people are faced with difficult setbacks in life, when huge challenges need to be overcome, when there’s pain and tragedy. If they can face it together and strengthen, then it’s a rare depth of love.

~

They met young, just 18 and 22. A country girl and a city boy. From two different worlds and two different backgrounds. It didn’t matter. He was happy to jump the first obstacle, which was that of distance. They lived an eight-hour drive apart, so each Friday evening after work, he would jump in his car and drive overnight to see his country girl—arriving in the early hours of Saturday morning, only to spend the weekend with her and drive back home Sunday night, in readiness to start his work week.

This went on for many months. Phone calls were expensive, so they wrote each other letters during the week. After a year of dating, they married, and she moved to the city. The first child came along quickly and three years later, their second child arrived.

Money was tight and there were no big holidays, but they did enjoy their family holidays back to the country and her parents’ home every year. The kids loved nothing more than time with their grandparents, in the home their mum grew up in. There was no lavish dining out or expensive gifts. There was no extravagance and no need to compete with anyone else. But there was time and love.

There were arguments and the kids learnt early that their mum was emotional and always verbally expressed what was on her mind. She did not hold back. Their dad was more subdued and didn’t like to argue back, which just heightened her frustration. But whilst they saw these arguments, they also saw their parents work through these stressors—maybe hard at times, but always the truth and always real.

She suffered with some anxiety and depression, and it was tough on the family, but he was always there. He always supported her.

Fast-forward and she becomes sick. Really sick. Illness after illness. She is diagnosed with kidney disease. She has bad lungs. She suffers with several autoimmune diseases. Progressively, her health worsens and she can no longer work. She’s so sad and unwell and the physical illnesses play havoc on her mental health, with periods of deepening depression.

Without her work, she has more time to overthink. More time to ruminate and worry. Her children are grown and she has grandchildren and they are the light of her life. She loves spending time with her family; it is the one real joy she has. She is constantly in pain and she can’t pick the younger grandchildren up anymore. Her self-confidence is slowly shattering and she is losing herself; every day she loses herself a little more as these pervasive illnesses take hold. But still he is there. He is always there.

Soon, she loses much of her mobility and needs more support. He gives up work and becomes her full-time caregiver. He goes to every doctor’s appointment. He cooks her every meal. He makes sure she takes all her medication. He does the housework and the washing. He does the grocery shopping. He bathes her and washes her hair. He gets her in the car to take her for a drive, just so she can see the water or the mountains.

He gives himself to whatever she needs, and in the process loses part of his own identity. There’s no sex; there hasn’t been sex for years as she is just too unwell. But he doesn’t care about that. He cares about being there for her.

She wakes up disoriented one morning and he calls an ambulance. She spends three weeks in the hospital after suffering seven cardiac arrests. She has a pacemaker inserted but her body has been through a lot and she loses more mobility. But it’s the middle of COVID-19 and home support has all but stopped—so he takes her home and does the best he can, without any professional support.

She is terrified of Covid and is too afraid to even have family or friends come to the house, so they are alone, and he is doing everything himself. But he doesn’t complain. He is a proud man and she is his wife—the love of his life, and he will not give in. He needs a hip replacement and is in a lot of pain, but he will not leave her for more than an hour in the day. His health will need to wait.

Her phone is her lifeline to the outside world and she speaks to her family daily, but it’s him—he is her life.

Covid starts to ease off and she’s feeling less afraid and wants to see the family, and the family is excited and making plans. Finally, they can all get together after two years of Covid fear.

But that is not to be. She feels incredibly unwell and congested one morning and another ambulance is called. She is in intensive care but begins to improve, so they thought. The family is visiting at different times. On day three, everyone is told that things are worsening. They are told that anyone who needs to visit should do so. She is terrified and heartbroken as her granddaughter is seven months pregnant and she so desperately wants to meet her great grandchild. She doesn’t want to leave yet. The only gift is that she finally got to see all her family together.

But it’s he who comes to the hospital every day with fresh-picked flowers out of the garden. The garden he painstakingly looks after, because he knows how much she loves flowers. He sits by her bed and holds her hand. He tells her that he loves her, and he feeds her in the hope it will give her some strength. Tomorrow, he will come with more fresh-cut flowers and he will hold her hand knowing that it may be the last time he gets to talk to her, feed her, and bring her flowers.

And then it happens; she starts to slip away. After enjoying spending time with him, her kids, and all her grandkids, she starts to leave. Each hour, she quietly moves away from life. Her body still reacts to his voice. To his touch. She knows he is there.

Because the depth of this love is real. It’s raw, and it’s true. It transcends everything.

And then, she is gone—devastatingly yet beautifully gone. Surrounded by loved ones and him, her greatest love. He’s sitting there quietly holding her hand. The pretty magenta flower he gave her just the day before sitting in the bowl on the side table. A stark reminder of their love—bright, vivid, and full of life. He leans over and he kisses her ever so softly, a kiss now frozen in time, and he whispers he loves her. A sob catches in his throat as he says a final goodbye. A final touch of his loves face, and with his tears visible, he stands up and leaves the room—the room that was filled with love, hope, pain, and now death.

He leaves behind the woman he has loved for 56 years. The woman he has so lovingly taken care of all those years, and especially the many years of her illness.

He goes home to the home they shared—and the emptiness is blinding. It’s deafening. And it’s so sadly agonising. He is lost and starts going through cupboards and drawers, in a desperate attempt to calm his mind. He finds a box, an old shoe box with a white ribbon tied around it. He opens it, unsure what is inside, and what he finds is the depth of their love. What he finds is the beginning of their story, a reminder that their story will never end. He finds every letter he ever wrote to her—every letter the city boy wrote to the country girl. She kept them all.

You see, love is the hard stuff. It’s the ugly and painful stuff. We can all be there for the good stuff, the easy stuff, but it takes deep love to navigate the truth. It takes deep love to navigate the reality of life. It takes deep love to watch someone suffer through illness and not only stand by them but take care of them. It takes deep love to face what life can throw at us. It takes deep love to be accepted in your absolute messiness, at your worst. When the shine wears off, the looks fade, health diminishes, sex is no longer possible, and they can no longer care for themselves but you cannot imagine your life without them, then you have found the truth in love.

It was him and her through to her last breath. It will always be him and her.

Not the fairy tale we are sold, but instead an undeniable love story. The truth of real love.

~

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