“I don’t know what Pete wants from me,” Jackie says in her high-pitched voice, dissatisfaction oozing from every word. “I’ve already seen him through his surgery and now there’ll be chemo. And I’ll be there, picking up the pieces, as always.”
“You sound so angry, Jackie,” I say, stating the obvious.
“Look, he smoked for 30 years. Yes, he finally quit but, guess what, his years of being an ass came back to bite him. And guess what again, just when we get the kids launched – that’s the word these days, isn’t it? – he goes and gets lung cancer. So he’ll probably die and I’ll be left on my own to go looking for a new man at this not so young stage of my life.”
I squirm in my seat, rubbing the thumb nail on my left hand. Jackie continues.
“I’m still being the good wife. I make his meals, I serve him, I clean up, same as always. I look at him sitting there just staring into space. But, yes, all I feel is anger.”
And all I feel is sadness. Images of my husband’s illness and death flash through my mind – doing “laps” around our living room with his walker for exercise, determined to stay with me as long as possible; his final days, loudly proclaiming, “I love you, Linda” before going into hospice. Our love never wavered. My love still doesn’t waver, six years after his death. But perhaps I’m feeling not only my sadness, but the sadness Jackie cannot allow herself to experience.
“No sadness, Jackie?” I ask.
“What, I can’t feel angry?”
Oops. I guess I followed my feelings instead of hers.
“Of course you can feel angry,” I say backtracking. “But I’m not sure I understand the intensity of your anger. Do you feel angry for the things Pete did in the past, or because he’s sick, or because he’s going to die or for some other reason?”
“Well, he wasn’t such a great husband, that’s for sure. He was a good provider, I’ll give him that. But once he got home all he wanted to do was to be catered to. Me and the kids didn’t matter. Just give him his dinner and let him relax and watch TV, no talking about anyone else’s day or, heaven forbid, any problems. And in the bedroom? Forget that. It was what he wanted and when he wanted it. That’s one advantage to his being sick and coughing all the time. I got to move into one of the kid’s bedrooms and he couldn’t give me too much grief about it.”
I shudder internally. Jackie’s hostility is almost too much for me to bear. “What about when you got married, Jackie? What did you love about Pete then?”
“That was a lifetime ago.”
“I understand, but what did you love about him?”
“Why?” Jackie asks, staring at me defiantly.
I blink, knit my brow and look back at her. I’m beginning to think that it wasn’t only my sadness I was feeling after all. “That doesn’t seem like such a strange question. Why are you asking me why?”
“You don’t like me being angry. That’s what I think,” she says crossing her arms over her chest.
“Perhaps,” I admit. “And perhaps you don’t want to risk feeling sad.”
“Why should I?”
“Well, remember what you said about Pete’s cigarette smoking coming back to bite him in the ass? That’s what can happen with feelings too. If you only feel your sadness and not your anger, you could, for example, end up being depressed. If you feel only your anger, in addition to missing out on a lot of love and closeness in your life, at some point you could be overwhelmed by your sadness or perhaps get physically sick, for example.”
“Sounds like a lot of psychobabble to me.”
“You know, Jackie, it seems like it’s not only Pete you want to stay angry at. It seems like you want to stay angry with me too.”
“I think you just can’t take my anger.”
“How about if I mull over that possibility and you consider whether you’re keeping your sadness at bay so you don’t have to deal with how scared and vulnerable you feel. Maybe we’ll be able to meet somewhere in the middle.”