Finding the Definition of Love, After Illness

love

Love can often be taken for granted and reveals its true nature when it’s put to the test. Everyone will tell you they love their spouse, friends, and their parents. Love is like life, it is easy when everything goes well, but it becomes meaningful and real when everything goes wrong.

When I met my boyfriend Roy, his father had been diagnosed with cancer and passed away 6 weeks later. Soon after, his mother slowly started showing signs of severe mental distress. There was no honeymoon stage for us, while my couple friends would go to the Hollywood Bowl or a picnic, I was at UCLA psych hospital watching a mother and son trying to hold on to each other.

Love Infinity for All Diane MagnetteWhen Roy was a child, his mom would pack a lunch and hide inside a note that said: “I love you infinity”. She was an unbelievable cook, an incredibly loving mom and an amazing teacher. She had suffered from postpartum depression but had recovered well, managed her ups and downs well and with the help of her husband raised two kind, compassionate and generous boys.

Though Roy has expressed regrets at times for not having spent more time with his parents when everything was going well, he has been there for them when they needed him the most. He was there for the middle of the night runs to their house to pick his dad up off the floor and sat next to his mom for hours until her anxiety wore off. He continues to be available any time of the day or night.

We didn’t have as many romantic dates as most of my friends did. All I know is no date was ever as meaningful as those days I saw an older lady smile when she saw me walk in her hospital room with her son. I witnessed the real meaning of love. When time and money runs out, when illness and suffering slowly consumes the brain, body and a family, the love in each heart is still intact.

When everything goes wrong in life, you quickly realize that time will not make everything better, that doctors can’t cure all illnesses, and money is not the answer to everything. The best realization when everything goes wrong is that we can still give and receive love. Sometimes it feels like love is not enough. In Roy’s case, it saved his mother’s life and has allowed us to build this partnership based on a common understanding that though it is for the better, it’s even more for the worse.

So what can you do when love is all that is left?

Be present: Just be physically there. Make the time. Roy has to drive many miles on Los Angeles Freeways to go see his mom. He does it even when he doesn’t have time. He makes the time.

Listen: No matter how many times you have heard it, listen like it’s the first time. You don’t always have to have a solution. Sometimes after seeing his mom Roy has called me to tell me how frustrated and sad he was. Naturally, I wanted to help, offering my advice when it was not needed. Sometimes, people want to just talk, and you just need to listen. So, I did and still do.

Physical affection: When our parents get old or lose their spouse, when someone is ill and lives in a hospital or nursing home, they miss physical contact. Physical contact can be a huge mental and emotional boost. Hold hands, kiss, hug. Just touch.

Talk: You don’t have to tell everyone, but a few good friends, a good therapist, a support group, a forum. Roy and I have gone to NAMI groups, and it has been helpful to be around people who deal with the same things we do.

Reach out to your community: Like I said, sometimes it feels like love is not enough, and that’s how I’ve felt. But I wanted to do more. I wanted to show my love beyond our family, so I created loveinfinityforall.com.

I learned to create handmade jewelry and dedicate every piece to Lois, Roy and everyone who has been impacted by mental illness, from Veterans suffering from PTSD, to mothers who have suffered from Postpartum Depression. Anyone who has ever thought that suicide was the solution and those who have gone through with that solution and their families. 15% of each piece goes to different charities, and our mission is to start a healthy conversation about the impact of mental illness.

This article was written by Diane Magnette and originally appeared on MariaShriver.com

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