Life Doesn’t Care About Your Plans

Like yesterday’s post, today’s post is about losing a parent before getting married. But what Sheryl shows us is that even though certain experiences may seem similar on the outside, the way we deal with life’s upheavals can be completely different from one person to another. More importantly though, I think Sheryl boils down what partnership is in its most pure form: letting go of the plan and doing what needs to be done for your family.

Somehow, I was out of bed, dressed and packing up the dog and an overnight bag before I even knew what was happening. A phone call at 4:42 in the morning comes with the implicit assumption that something is wrong. Hearing Bunny’s end of the conversation, his voice strained and giving only one word answers, quickly confirmed that. The next thing either of us remembers, we were hurtling down the highway, faster than I’ve ever know him to drive. As he filled me in on the details of the call, my stomach worked itself into knots that had me leaning out the passenger window and painting the side of the truck.

Wednesday night we had gone to bed with our world perfectly ordered. Jobs weren’t particularly forthcoming for either of us, but we had my cushy savings and his freelance hours to rely on. We lived in an adorable town house that we loved in a beautiful co-op with a great community, and were planning on staying there for another five years. We’d finally started hanging up our artwork and everything. We’d been scrimping and saving for a perfect-to-us, tiny fall wedding with just our very nearest and dearest invited, and with small but meaningful details. We were even talking very seriously about babies, much to his father’s delight and my mother’s horror.

By the time we arrived at the hospital, less than an hour later, it was pretty clear that none of our carefully laid plans mattered at all. The rest of that day is mostly a blur, filled with words like “severe stroke” and “basal artery,” waiting on tests and scans, hopes raised and dashed until finally there was a confirmed conclusion: no brain stem activity. For twelve hours, I wandered hospital halls like a ghost who wasn’t sure where it belonged. That afternoon, Bunny’s father died surrounded by extended family and friends.

I can’t even tell you the number of ways our hearts broke that day. I won’t even try it’s so impossible.

In the next days, our lives changed completely. There was no going home; we needed to be near our families. So we camped out with his momma (and then mine). We slept (or tried to) and sat and stared at TV screens and cleaned and nodded politely when people talked to us and made decisions at funerals homes. Time passed, slower than I’d ever known it could. Bunny and I drove back to our home in Toronto that we have been slowly making our own, but only to pack more clothes, clean out the fridge, and check on the cat.

Family and friends descended on the house, and we barely had a chance to breathe. It was overwhelming. Love, I’ve been coming to realize, can be like that. Through the crowds, I wandered from room to room, first checking on Bunny, then his mother, then his sister and her (now) husband, and his niece before working my way back to Bunny. Over and over. I had loved Bunny’s family since the day they moved in next door when I was eight, and his dad had been more of a father to me than my own. I was as lost as anyone else there. In those first few days, I knew that my world had changed. What I didn’t know was how much.

It’s said a fair bit around here, but it’s worth repeating, that weddings and funerals tend to be the only time that entire families end up together, in the same place at the same time. The perfect fall wedding Bunny and I had been crafting for ourselves, were in love with, but oddly reluctant to commit to, was so small that it would have excluded all but the most immediate of family. A few days after his dad died, Bunny started scheming up a new wedding. With only twenty guests planned, his father’s absence loomed over the event. Nothing will ever fill the gap that he has left, and there is no escaping the fact that his father will be missed there, but it suddenly became clear that we needed to be surrounded by as much love as we could manage on that day. We needed to give our family an event to celebrate, and a reason to be happy. Somehow, terrified-of-crowds me is having a massive wedding. (Well, a massive post-wedding party, but still.)

With that decided, suddenly, time sped up. Instead of sitting around, numb, our minds were churning and buzzing. Death has a way of forcing you to examine your priorities and whether your life lines up with them. Things we had discussed in a hazy, one day in the future manner grew in our minds. More than anything, Bunny needed change. All the things we had been saying about one day living closer to our families, about wanting a less hectic life outside Toronto, about wanting backyards and friendly neighbours became much more immediate and important for both of us. We couldn’t give ourselves more time with his father, but we could rearrange our lives to spend more time with and be closer to the rest of our family. We decided to make those changes a priority, for within the year.

When life throws changes at you, though, it doesn’t really care about your timelines.

On a whim a week later, Bunny decided to hand out a couple resumés in the town our parents live in. He hadn’t had much luck finding work in his industry in Toronto, so we figured it couldn’t hurt to look elsewhere. On his first day out, he came home with a job at a small, local mechanic’s shop that he couldn’t be more thrilled about. The only issue? We’d have to move. Immediately.

At that point, all we could do was swim with the current. The changes we had discussed in the abstract were happening now. Luckily, we have a pretty laid-back attitude to these sort of major upheavals, and since everything in our lives was pushing us in one direction we decided to jump feet first into the change. The next day I asked my mother if we could move in with her until we found our own place, and began clearing out her basement. We’ve since given notice at the co-op, and we are looking for someplace more permanent than the basement.

Two weeks after it all began, our heads are still spinning. Our lives have been turned upside down, but what we are moving towards is far more in line with our values and our dreams than the life we’re leaving behind. Nothing could have ever prepared us for all these changes, but as long as we have each other we can take anything life throws at us.

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  • I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. My heart goes out to you (all), and I wish you much luck in your new adventures.

  • Laura

    I’m sorry to hear about this. Best of luck to you.

  • haelmai

    My heart breaks for you and Bunny. My fiance’s father died mid-August unexpectedly, and our wedding is in December. It has been some of the hardest times I have ever gone through, but our love has helped us keep going. Thank you so much for sharing your story. May hugs and love surround you.

  • Jashshea

    Good luck, Sheryl – there is simply not much to say beyond that, but I’ll make a small attempt.

    We lost my fiance’s brother suddenly 5 months ago (the wedding is in 3.5 weeks) and while it’s extremely difficult to keep moving forward it’s simply the only way. Life and time with your loved ones is extremely precious and surrounding yourself with as much love as possible sounds lovely. We’re all pulling for you.

  • KB

    My heart also breaks for you guys. I think this post goes to show that sometimes weddings can be a hassle, but sometimes they can also be exactly what you need. At a time like this, it can be uplifting and life/love-affirming to plan an event that will have a deeper, or maybe more dimensional, meaning to you both now.

  • Newtie

    I’m so sorry to hear of your loss and moved by the resilience in your post.

    Major family trauma and loss also led my partner and me to have a much larger wedding than we ever imagined we’d have, in order to accommodate all family. It also radically changed our decisions about work and where to live — we decided to stay much closer to home than we ever thought we would, having been “world travelers” who lived far and wide before our families experienced difficulty.

    A lot of my friends and acquaintances have occasionally seemed to judge me, as if they think I’ve “settled” somehow because I’m living in the same state I was born in, or because I had a somewhat more traditional wedding than is in vogue right now. But there’s no way to understand how dramatically your priorities shift, and how living in a “cool” city or having just the right tastefully off-beat wedding really just doesn’t matter at all when you are facing the loss of loved ones.

    • PA

      Your experience sounds maddening to me. Many of my friends have not understood the shift in priorities that has led me to get married and buy a house (long story short, most of them are, for valid reasons, waiting to get married to their significant others), and even though their lack of understanding has been relatively low-key, it has been frustrating. Yours sounds much, much worse.

      Living in the right place, having the celebration that fits your circumstances, and in general being adaptable are not things that mean you’re “settling!” Cheers to you and your fiance, and to Sheryl and Bunny, for being able to say, “our plans no longer fit our circumstances.”

    • I’m so sorry that your friends haven’t been understanding of the need for change in your lives. One thing Bunny and I have been very lucky in is that for the most part our friends could accept where our changes were coming from and were very supportive of the life changes we made directly after this. I can’t even imagine how frustrated I’d feel if friends had been acting judgmental about the changes we’d needed to make.

      Best of luck to you two and your family getting through these tough times.

  • Margi

    “But as long as we have each other we can take anything life throws at us.” My boyfriend’s father was sick when we first met and passed away 6 months into our relationship. We have now been together for 4 years, and the loss still manages to subconsciously affect our relationship on a daily basis. However, for me, going through that experience has made me slow things down. I’ve always wanted to elope, but reading your post puts into words something that my boyfriend has been unable to adequately express, why he wants to have a big wedding celebration. Thank you for sharing your story, Cheryl.

    • One of the strangest parts of this whole situation, and our year in general, for me has been juggling the competing compulsions to slow everything down and enjoy the moments that we have and at the same time this new internal pressure to speed things up and do more now. It’s all about living in the moment and enjoying each moment for what it’s worth.

      Ironically enough, as far as Bunny’s need for the big wedding went, he ended up making the call to trash the wedding altogether and elope after some more unplanned life changes got thrown at us and made it so just being married, now, was more important than anything else. Until Bunny’s dad died, though, I honestly never understood what an introvert like myself would see in a big wedding, and just being able to see his point of view there was huge.

  • Oh God. So, so sad and sorry. What a strange blessing, however, to get the kick in the pants that leads you to start living a life that is in line with your values sooner rather than later. All we have for sure is this moment, and I admire the way you guys are embracing this one, with all of its pain.

  • Class of 1980

    We always think there will be more time.

    Sheryl and Bunny, you have faced a truth that’s hard for most of us to see – that we can’t take for granted that there will be more time to make the changes our hearts are telling us.

    Wishing you happiness and peace in your new life.

  • Deciding priorities is a funny thing and it is amazing sometimes what finally forces us to decide what is important.

    Hugs and love to you and Bunny as you go through this difficult, exciting, tumultuous, crazy (and ultimately, I hope, wonderful) transition.

  • SomeOther Hilary

    Sheryl and Bunny: I am so sad and so sorry for your loss. I also want to thank you for sharing such a valuable object lesson in what really matters. Sometimes, Planners (I’m a planner, I admit it) get caught up in the Plan and it’s Outcomes as though they are a value unto themselves. We get invested in things turning out the way we invisioned and labored simply because we invested and labored. When life interrupts that work and that value, reminding us, sometimes quite painfully, that The Plan Can (Must, Might, etc) change, it’s a perilous fork at times: Forge ahead with the PLAN BECAUSE IT IS THE PLAN/flex and bend with life and entertain or choose NonPlan items.

    Thank you again for sharing something so raw and so true and so real with us.

    • That was the hugest lesson for me, at least with this whole experience. I didn’t have an easy time making all these changes, and I didn’t handle all of them with as much grace as I’d hoped, but having gone through them has definitely helped me learn just how important that flexibility is, and how much more peaceful life can be when I’m willing to alter course.

  • I am so glad that you could move back to be close to family and that you have the kind of family that helps you do so and makes you want to. Family, both the one that we are born into and the ones that we chose, is so important in our lives. Sometimes, it takes a death to make us realize that.