My invisible bff

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

*This is part of a series of posts I'm plucking away at while moving through the loss of my co-parent.

I snapped this photo last night and then remembered I couldn't send it to him. She decided to sleep downstairs with the dogs for a little while, and that's totally okay with me.

Him and I had been separated for about a decade, but never divorced. After the first couple heartbreaking years of our separation (heartbreak primarily inflicted by me, I'm so sorry), we found a comfortable sense of partnership. We amicably revisited the prospect of finalizing the divorce a few times over the years, but after the papers were sent back due to misfiling the first time, we both figuratively shrugged. Neither of us were planning on remarrying any time soon, though both of us had entertained the idea as we moved through our respective relationships. I think we both quietly preferred having the other as a "legal spouse". We had a solid system, why mess with it. Most importantly, we both loved our girls intensely, and we both knew that caring for each other as partners was ultimately the best thing for them.

He was so fair, so flexible, so patient. I'm a restless person, and he gave me space to flail and explore. He supported every decision I made, always sent his blessings when I started new relationships, and always made an effort to appreciate the people in my life. He didn't *like* all of them, but he always trusted me, and never outwardly voiced criticisms of my choices. When I bought my farm, he cheered me on and did everything he could to accommodate our changing schedules. When he got sick, I tried to do the same for him, and while I loved my life on the farm, I wished so badly that I could be closer. I'm trying not to dwell too much on what I could have done differently, though the guilt of all the "couldas" still weighs on my heart. None of us knew how quickly the cancer would move. Every decision felt like either alarmism or defeatism.

I can't speak for him, obviously. Especially now. A little while ago, while I was lurching through feelings of imposter syndrome and not knowing where I fit in his loss, I asked my daughter, "did he like me?" I had been wondering if maybe it had always just been his nature to tolerate me, if maybe I was claiming more closeness with him than I was entitled to. My daughter looked confused and said "Mom! Of course! He loved you! He talked about you all the time!" I felt both relief and a tinge of guilt. I wish I'd told him what he meant to me more often. I wish I'd been brave enough to let him come closer.

Before he was sick, the depth of our conversations would awkwardly ebb between "we're separate partners with separate lives, let's stick to that" and "you're my best friend". Depending on the phases of our lives, we would draw new boundaries if things began to feel too intimate. We cared about each other but knew being together again wasn't in the cards, and neither of us were willing to risk putting the girls through any sort of doomed effort. We both protected ourselves, but protecting our girls was more important. Our relationship eventually settled on a sort of invisible best friendship. Our love for our girls tied us together, we spoke often, and we each enjoyed seeing each other, but respect for each others' independent lives remained firm. Our conversations were for us only. I've always been more prone to blab than him (ie: this blog), and I was always a bit surprised when mutual friends were unaware of his quiet struggles. While our friendship certainly wasn't a secret, it was broadly unacknowledged to most except us. We had our boundaries (primarily, not bitching about our significant others), but otherwise we were like unassuming bricks in the foundations of each others' lives.

After his diagnosis, I expressed clearly to him that those previous boundaries we established could be lifted in whatever way he needed. If he needed to talk, vent, cry, I was there. Over the past six months, I repeated to him that if he wanted to stop working, we would make room for him on the farm. I reiterated an open invitation to get together, talk any time, and make plans together. We talked about taking a vacation together, and we joked about our dating lives; mine functioned as a distraction, his was supremely complicated by his illness. It crossed my mind and my heart many times to say "let's just be together for the rest of this", but we both knew it wasn't so simple. We both had entire lives that, by that point, weren't easily merged. He enjoyed watching the farm, the dogs, the chickens, but he loved the city. He had plans for a full city summer with the girls. And because we didn't know how much time he had, I was committed to building my farm and business, so that when the time came, the girls and I would have solid options and security. Beyond all that, I thought the pain and heartbreak would be too much if we tried to merge again. As it turned out, the pain and heartbreak were just as potent, either way.

As I was going through his stored keepsakes in his garage with his dad, his dad pointed to boxes and boxes of clothes and items from when our girls were small and we still lived together. His dad said that when he and Mike were sorting through everything, Mike insisted none of it be donated or tossed. Baby toys, maternity clothes, toddler outfits, cribs, art, "he held onto that time, I don't think he ever really got passed it". He never moved out of the house I found for us when we separated. Our jokes still revolved around the shows we watched together in his shitty art school apartment, living with his best bud Jay. Kids In The Hall, Mr. Show, Christopher Guest movies, Ren & Stimpy. I felt so much delight when his interests merged with mine; space, sci-fi, weirdo music. He loved our dogs. The exploits of our farm became a feature topic of conversation when the girls went home to him.

What can I learn from this loss? How do I apply it going forward? We're moving back to Calgary now, and his life has once again merged with mine through our girls; reestablished ties with his incredible family and his close group of friends; integrating his records, books, furniture, and keepsakes with ours; the girls have inherited all his things, they wear his shirts, hats, jackets; the rooms they had at their dads and the rooms they had with me will soon be one and the same. We're carrying his life forward with us. After over a decade of living separately, supporting each other and respecting each other as friendly exes, I'm suddenly a widow. And I feel like a widow. I didn't think it would impact me as hard as it has. I spent so many years finding my way as a single parent, but he was my constant. My invisible best friend.

In his final days, we did express our love to each other. It started with "we love you" and "I love you guys", still cautiously stepping around those ex protocols we spent years establishing. But in the end is was simply "I love you". We both knew it was coming, and it was such a relief to finally say. I still don't know what to make of it all. There's no clear plot or resolution to this whole thing. Just love, I guess. Kindness, patience. We were each others' first loves. We navigated life's puzzles as best as we could. What I am learning, is that love is so much more than a simple structure of categorical expressions and gestures. It's like a multilayer cake that expands into the cosmos, each layer full of different textures and flavours. We gather around it, cut into it, consume it, share it, and sometimes feel a bit sick after... I don't know.

I think that's enough for today. I miss you Mikey.

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