Love Is Not All

The early morning hours of March 16th were some of the hardest, loneliest I’ve ever faced.  I’m not going to share exactly what was happening–that’s too intimate–but suffice to say that I was trying to keep my beloved on the life raft in the midst of a stormy sea.

Richard was restless and not in this reality.  I talked him back to this world several times and tried to get him to sleep.  I thought he would be safest if he stayed in our bed.  The bed became like a life raft, a small safe square.  I was bone weary, but slept diagonally across the bed so that I could feel if he moved.  I slept with my hand holding his wrist and the instant my hand grasped his, I remembered two things:  Theodore Gericault’s painting, “The Raft of the Medusa”:

Jean Louis Théodore Géricault, "The Raft of the Medusa" 1818, via Wikimedia Commons

Jean Louis Théodore Géricault, “The Raft of the Medusa” 1818, via Wikimedia Commons

and Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Sonnet XXX”:

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.

I recalled the painting because of its despair, panic, confusion.  It was in one of the art books I had as a small child and the image has never left me.  When I got to college and took art history, I learned the story behind the scene.  One hundred and fifty desperate people, clinging to a rickety raft after their ship was lost off Mauritania.  They endured two weeks in the open ocean and faced starvation and madness.  Some resorted to cannibalism.  Only fourteen survived.  Even as a child looking at Gericault’s painting, I understood the horror of the situation.  My college professor was the first one to point out to me the tiny ship on the horizon.  Every fiber of effort on the raft is focused on reaching for the hope of the distant ship.  A life raft, filled with death and madness all around, but a single dot of hope so far out on the horizon.  This is the image that came to my mind as I clung to Richard’s wrist, in the dark, on our life raft.

Along with the image of the raft came Millay’s line “Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink/And rise and sink and rise and sink again.” Just a few weeks earlier, I had been thumbing through a poetry anthology in search of something to read at our wedding.  This poem was about love in its most steadfast form, but I couldn’t bring myself to say the line about “Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,/Nor clean the blood.”  I couldn’t say it.  We had tried everything to clean his blood and every science betrayed us.  But the poem came back to me that night with its image of the spar, the wood we drowning folks cling to in order to rise, even though we may sink again.

Loving someone is hard.  Loving someone as they die is hard.  Some people walk away–“I might be driven to sell your love for peace.”  I did not.  I would not trade the memory of that night.  I know I would not.

24 thoughts on “Love Is Not All

  1. Christopher Sheets

    Damn, woman. You get to the thick of it, wrest it to the surface and stare at it in the open sunlight, don’t you? Brave lady, you do us all honor to so share your thoughts and words.

  2. Donna Murphy

    I love that you had a meaningful art book as a small child. I was thinking how wonderful your parents must have been to expose you to such things, and how lucky lucky lucky your children are to have you to explain and sort through difficult topics with such grace and honesty. sigh. Life is something, yes?

    1. baddestmotherever

      Yes! Just today, Vivi and I have talked about aquifers, otters, magic beans, Confederate soldiers, hypotenuses, and corgis. At Christmas, my mom passed along the art books and geography books that I had as a kid and they belong to Vivi now!

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  4. Betsy Pasko-Flaherty

    I enjoy, admire & love you! I relate to you so well. I lost my husband 20 yrs ago, I was only 30, he was 38. I so relate to this post. I did the same with my husband. He died of a brain tumor. No matter how much time has gone by, the memories are forever etched in our hearts. God Bless you! XOXO

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  6. Dena Hobbs

    Beautiful and heartbreaking. It reminds me of the line from Song of Songs, “for love is stronger than death.” Even though your love couldn’t stave off his death, his death never diminished your love. Thanks for sharing this gift.

  7. Karen Higgins

    Your posts always give me the perspective I need. Always. It’s amazing how your words touch me as I attempt to understand a minute amount if what you have endured, and thrived through. We all have our road to travel, we are all so different. But your road seems an amazing journey that I don’t know if I could have survived, much less thrived on. Your memory astounds me, as I have very little recollection of details during stressful times. Thank you. Thank you for sharing. And touching. And thriving.

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