Losing one’s mother or father at a young age, whether it’s by abandonment, parental divorce, or through death can be especially painful and has a long-term impact on many children who have the misfortune of going through this experience. The fear of risking a repeat of another unbearably painful loss has caused many to avoid committed partnerships and intimate relationships in general. Yet some survivors of early loss have chosen a commitment to having a fulfilling love life, rather than to avoid the risks. Consider the case of Janice.
Janice’s father died when she was six years old. Unsurprisingly, she was devastated by the loss. She writes: “Losing a father can skew a girls relationships with men.” (a bit of an understatement!). Having a mother who distrusted all males didn’t help. I inherited her discomfort around the opposite sex, and combined with my low self-esteem it exacerbated the normal awkwardness of being a teen-aged girl.”
But despite her trepidation, Janice did manage to get into the dating scene in her twenties, but “I found myself making some astoundingly poor choices”. She concluded that it would be better to withdraw from the search for a partner, not because she didn’t want a relationship, but out of a sense of despair over ever being successful in the dating world.
On the occasion of the 35th anniversary of her dad’s funeral, when Janice was 41 years old, she drove back to her hometown where she had lived as a little girl, sat at his gravesite and wrote a letter to her father explaining the impact that his death had had on her. She read the letter aloud and then drove home feeling at peace.
Exactly one week later, Janice met a “kind, respectful, funny man who was captivated by me”. They shared a brief, delightful romance together until he was killed in a car accident. The shock and disappointment of this loss was a big setback for Janice and it was several years before she felt sufficiently receptive to accept a friend’s offer to go on a date with a man with whom she would be in a ten-year loving relationship that ended when he experienced a fatal heart attack. At this point, Janice, not surprisingly, began to feel that “the men in my life were doomed”. Then, after accepting what seemed like the inevitable fate of being alone, Janice met a man at her gym with whom she currently shares a supportive and mutually adoring partnership.
Janice is now 71 years old. “I’m in a relationship with the man of my dreams. Is there a possibility that he will die before I do, and I’ll be left alone again? Of course! But I am committed to making the most of every minute that we have together.”
They say that true love ain’t for wimps, that it’s not for the faint of heart and that it takes great courage to open your heart, especially when one has so intimately known the pain of loss. Janice knew that all too well, having undergone it several times. Yet she chose to stay true to her deepest longing, even when she knew that the only way to be sure that she would never again experience another unbearable loss would be to permanently close her heart to love. Janice chose to open her heart and take her chances. That takes commitment and it takes courage. Interestingly, the root of the word “courage” is “cour” which means “heart” in Latin.
Fortunately for most of us, our commitment isn’t tested as severely as Janice’s has been, but her story reminds us that even those relationships that are “meant to be” and do last a lifetime inevitably have their share of commitment tests, and even those that have exceptionally difficult challenges can be worth the risk and the effort, even if they are cut short of our expectations. Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I think that Janice would agree to that. Would you?