Last spring, at my annual retreat, I reflected on Ellie's taking care of Loretta as she battled her cancer. Before moving in with Loretta, Ellie had spent a lot of time with her. At the time of the retreat, Ellie had lived full-time with Loretta for more than 3 months and it looked to be ongoing. As I believe I've made clear in this forum, although the sheer amount of time apart was putting distance between Ellie and me, I fully supported Ellie's doing it; Loretta was my friend, too, and badly needed what Ellie provided. And I figured we could recover.
Knowing that Ellie would be the executor of Loretta's will, I struck on the idea of settling Loretta's estate in a way to make it a joint project that she and I could use to enhance the process of getting our life back. ( Truth be told, this was not my idea alone; the retreat master mentioned 'joint projects' as one way for spouses to enhance their relationship. ) I broached the idea with Ellie, she liked it, and we agreed we'd work the project with the specific purpose of enhancing our relationship as we eased back into our life.
Ellie is back home, we're well into the project ( perhaps nearing the end ), and another retreat is coming up. It seems appropriate to evaluate how we've done. Well, like so many things in our life, the answer depends on whom you ask.
Make no mistake ... we are both glad she's back home; we are as close as we've ever been; we've had some misunderstandings about how to live together but we've managed them with humor, grace and love; we are giggly about living together again.
But I didn't think it happened because of working together on the project; she did. She told me I had been profoundly helpful in talking things over, especially early, when she was just getting started. I thought we were just talking about it, informally. She had never done anything like this before and didn't want a type-A personality ( guilty ) to contend with, so she took the doing into her hands, asking me to do only small, well-defined tasks; the planning was heavily influenced by the conversations that I thought were merely informal exchanges of ideas. "And you were very helpful with the successful estate sale," she said. "We had to choose between several people to orchestrate it. You were involved in the interviews." Our friend Jane had offered help early on, even saying she enjoyed doing the sort of organizing and carting away that was going to be required after the estate sale. I had no particular skill to offer, and less desire. Both Ellie and I were happy for me to stay home while she and Jane met to work on the leftovers after the estate sale.
And so ... dear friends ... while Ellie and I, as is typical for us and part of what makes living together so interesting, characterize our working on the project differently and speak of it differently and even experience it somewhat differently, we agree on the things that occurred. And the project has eased us back into our happily married life.
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