Mary Tyler Moore died on January 25, 2017. She was 80 years old. She lived with Type 1 diabetes for over half her life.
I heard of her passing during my lunch hour and was preoccupied with thoughts about her life and death the rest of the day. She was iconic. She was a trailblazer. She oozed beauty, talent, and grace. But that’s not why she was on my mind.
You see, a few months prior to her death, Kevin came home from work and seemed a little down. My usual “How was your day?” Was replaced with “What’s wrong?” “Nothing,” he responded, “just tired.”
His mood lingered the rest of that evening, so after our daughter went to bed I asked again, “What’s the matter?” “Did you see the JDRF newsletter today?” He replied. I hadn’t. “It talked about how the average life expectancy for a male with T1D is 66 years old. My life is half over.”
I didn’t know how to respond. I hugged him and reminded him of the advancements in treatment that have occurred since that research was published. We just sat close for a while, and pondered together how we cannot know the day or hour when we will pass from this life.
Kevin went to bed in a somber mood that evening. I went to bed wishing there was more I could have said in that moment. I remember looking at him as he lie sleeping in our bed, and whispering an “I’m sorry” that he wouldn’t hear. I said it more for me than for him. I was trying to undo the knot of inadequacy and guilt that was festering inside of me. Inadequacy for not being prepared with a magical set of reassuring words to take his sadness away; guilt for living in my T1D-free, healthy body and probably most of the time taking it for granted.
The day Mary Tyler Moore died, I was, of course, initially filled with a sense of sadness and loss. I’m sure she left family and friends that loved her and would miss her dearly; I
sympathized with those forced to go on living without her presence. But then, this wave of excitement moved through me and before I had the chance to label it as selfish and
inappropriate, I began planning how I would share the news with Kevin! “She died!”, I would tell him. “And she was 80! And she was an alcoholic!” (Inappropriate, I know).
I was sure this proof that one could live beyond age 66 with T1D would make him feel better. That’s 14 extra years! I couldn’t wait to point out how much healthier he was than she; I mean, he wears a CGM and counts his carbs and she was an alcoholic who, at her own admission, spent years neglecting her health altogether. Surely these were the magic words I had been missing those few short months ago.
I was almost giddy waiting for him to get home from work (again inappropriate with the giddiness, I know). As we were chopping vegetables for dinner, I asked him if he had heard that she died. “I did hear that, yeah.” he nodded. “Did you know she was 80?! Did you know she was an alcoholic?!” I proceeded to point out the many ways in which this person likely led what would probably be judged as a “less healthy” life than the one he is living. He didn’t seem moved. I went on, “And I heard her talking on Ellen once about how she would go through these like long times in her life when she wouldn’t even take her insulin…”. My words eventually trailed off.
I realized then there was nothing I could say that would absolve my husband from wondering if his fate was somewhat fixed by this disease.
Maybe the lesson for him is- in spite of research articles and science and calculations of risk to choose to live his life as fully as he can; to live it in a way that invites an understanding of why God chose him to fight this disease instead of somebody else (words he has written to me before).
Maybe the lesson for me is that I can’t rescue anybody. Not Kevin, not my patients. Maybe I need to realize that it’s not my job nor was it written in my vows to have the perfect response to every comment, to be able to reassure flawlessly through any difficult day, to prove that it’s possible to “beat” this disease. It’s fairly easy for me to recognize those things with my patients. It’s harder with Kevin. But I can recognize and remember that when I said “I do” it made it my job to just love him the way he is. To sit with him when is down. To be happy and carefree alongside him. To take this life one day at a time; breath by breath, hand in hand, insulin shot by insulin shot.