Date: January 7 2015
Published by: The Washington Post
My ex-husband died recently. Mike (not his real name) was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two weeks before he passed away.
I’m sad he died so young — he was just 50 — but there’s also an emotional distance. We separated more than 12 years ago. Our friends and I watched as Mike’s severe mental illness and refusal to stay on his meds changed him from the person we all knew “before.” He lost friends and family. Only his mother and one childhood friend regularly visited. The rest of us … well, the paranoia and abusive phone calls at 2 a.m. can push away even the most dedicated friend.
Now, I see how very young we were. When I think back to those days when the future was this big, open vista, the emotional distance shrinks to a millimeter, and I burst into tears. Twenty minute later, it’s as wide as the Grand Canyon again — I already grieved for him, years before he was gone.
Mike’s severe bipolar disorder came on suddenly, in his late 30s, like a surprise (and unwelcome) midlife crisis. On a trip to Vietnam, we took an antimalarial that seemed to trigger it. One day he was fine, the next, not. A doctor later told me that his disease had been there all along.