AN ODE TO ARLEAH
Arleah turned 80 today. It’s hard for either of us to believe it. At almost any earlier time in our lives, being 80 was almost incomprehensible. The only associations we had involved falling asleep in mid-sentence, waddling to the washroom, and drooling while eating. It’s hard to believe that we are still coherent, productive and interesting.
As I sat listening to the music of Vince Gill (tearing-up as I usually do), I was struck by how amazing the last 44 years have been. Arleah and I met in group therapy, working on our first marriages. Neither of us was looking for someone else. Our first marriages had hit a wall – they were not combative, explosive or abusive. They were empty and lifeless.
There was no magic spark between us, at the beginning. As we later discovered, I initially found her overly serious, with all the seductiveness of a bag lady. She found me ponderously intellectual and arrogant. So, love at first sight did not bring us together. What did, was Ayn Rand.
After our group therapy sessions a number of us would take a kind of coffee break to decompress and compare insights and realizations. After a while, Arleah and I broke away from the group and discovered some alarming similarities – chief among these, was our view of individualism. During one of these discussions, “Atlas Shrugged” and Ayn Rand came up. This is when the rockets went off. It was as if we had simultaneously discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls. And this was when we fell in love.
Arleah is the only woman I’ve ever known, who could make unfettered, passionate love, and then fifteen minutes later want to tell me about an article she had read, about quantum physics. Her curiosity knows no bounds, and it is one of the precious things about her that I love so deeply.
But beyond her intelligence, perseverance and curiosity, Arleah is my hero. She never, ever, stops working on herself. No matter what she is challenged by, her focus is always about what she has learned – about her.
Shortly after we began our relationship, Arleah’s fifteen year old daughter died. It is impossible to describe the immensity and horror of the death of your child, and the catastrophic grief with which it batters and crushes one’s very soul. Our visits to the cemetery were beyond anything I had ever experienced. Arleah would fall on Sharon’s grave, in screaming, agonizing grief. She held nothing back. After the time at the cemetery, we would talk about what she was going to do with the rest of her life.
Sharon died during Arleah’s last year of her psychotherapy training. She used her remaining schooling to research the devasting impact of the death of a child on the bereaved parents and the rest of the family. What she found was sobering and stunning. A huge percentage of parents emotionally died with their children – never rejoining life. A huge number of marriages ended, and many friendships fell away. This research was a fundamental element in Arleah’s grieving and recovery; and formed the foundation of a body of knowledge used by healtcare professionals in their work with bereaved families. A few years later, it led to the writing of her book – “My Beloved Child: My Journey Since The Death Of My Daughter’” which has been a gift to professionals and lay people.
Fifteen years after Sharon’s death, Arleah fought and won a battle with cancer. The treatments were brutal and draining, but she never surrendered to self-pity, nor lost her resolve to re-engage with life and her work.
As if she hasn’t been tested enough, she currently struggles with a crippling spine disease that has limited her mobility and activity. Given all that, she maintains her practice, reads as voraciously as ever, and rides herd on our eleven month old lab puppies (officially named Jack and Jill – on bad days, Bonnie and Clyde).
I have tried, a number of times, to capture what my life with Arleah has been like. This is my latest attempt: “I have only vague memories of life before her, and cannot imagine life without her”