Mac Musings

Life Intrudes

Daniel Knight - 2004.12.22

Eight weeks ago, my brother-in-law was hospitalized with headaches and eye problems. Doctors discovered an inoperable tumor in the center of his brain. At 5:45 this morning, Perry passed away at home surrounded by his family.

I'd like to tell you a lot about Perry Goff, a man from Mississippi who drove trucks, married my little sister, became the darling of her three daughters, learned to hunt like a Michigan man, and worked with troubled youth for a while.

I'd like to tell you more, but I spent most of my life keeping people at arm's length. Forty-five years of keeping a comfortable distance so life wouldn't hurt me.


Why? I still don't know, but I had a horrible fear of abandonment. I've had very few close friends over the years, and I never knew what it took to maintain a friendship. In the end, it cost me my marriage. My ex-wife wanted more from me, but she didn't know how to say it and I didn't know what she wanted.

Through the death of my marriage, I lost myself to despair, anxiety, depression, and (sometimes) alcohol. It hurt so bad losing the person who meant more to me than any other. I felt so alone, so empty, so angry, so worthless, so lost.

Living all by myself during the separation didn't help at all. Like the song says, the one bedroom apartment where I got my mail felt less like a home, more like a jail.

Until this year, my marriage was the closest relationship I'd ever had. It defined me - and that was my biggest mistake. When it began to unravel in October 2003, I no longer knew who I was. I was in an identity free fall.

As I learned through therapy and even more from The Journey from Abandonment to Healing> (Susan Anderson, $10.46 through, I had to find value in myself rather than find it in the opinions of others.

At rock bottom, I found that God had not abandoned me - and would not abandon me no matter how I yelled at him for allowing me to go through this hell. From rock bottom, there's nowhere else to go but up. It was a long, slow process coming to terms with my fears, facing them, moving forward.

Over time I learned that the person who abandoned me was bad for me, a key lesson of Anderson's book. She might not be a bad person, but remaining in the relationship would only lead to further emotional abuse. I had to stop trusting her, stop trying to fix things, stop hoping for a change.

For my own safety - and for her own good - I had to let go. It went against everything I believed about marriage, forgiveness, and reconciliation, but the whole process completely shattered my worldview. A lot of my old ideals and principles died over the past year.

Never Alone

Anderson says that we have to become our own best friend to survive abandonment and make a new start. I am the one person who can't abandon me, so I need to nurture myself.

That's not easy to do when you feel like a complete failure, that life holds no hope, that you'd rather be dead than feel the pain of abandonment for another minute. I didn't have the resources to nurture myself in my pain and anger.

God became my lifeline. We were going through The Purpose-Driven Life (Rick Warren, $11.19 at at church, and the early lessons reminded me over and over again that God planned me, made me, knew me, had a plan for me, loved me, and would never abandon me.

That gave me the strength to deal with therapy, try different meds, face the loss of love, let go of the marriage, work out a very reasonable settlement with my ex, and start to move on with life.

I learned to reach out, to share my story with coworkers, people at church, family members. My emotions were raw, and people began to see a side of me that had been hidden for 45 years. They offered me the support and encouragement I needed.

New Life

There were a lot of ups and downs. I remember the day I realized that I no longer loved my wife, that she'd sucked the love right out of me in her desperate desire to flee the marriage at any cost. For the first time in my life, I discovered that you can't promise to love someone forever - you never know how they might let you down. All you can do is promise to try for forever and give it your best shot day after day.

That's what I'm doing now. Thanks to Yahoo Personals, I evaluated what was important to me, put myself out there, and eventually found a wonderful woman. Six weeks after filing for divorce, I sent an icebreaker to someone who looked intriguing. She replied openly and with humor. We sent over 50 messages back and forth that first week.

We met for the first time six months ago. We had dinner and found that talking was as easy and fun as emailing had been. I think we spent three hours at Bennigan's that night, and we've been changing each other's lives ever since. We love taking walks together, shopping together, playing games together (euchre, cribbage, Scrabble), talking on the phone, sharing a meal, meeting each other's families, sharing our lives.

I learned that I could trust again, love again, feel alive again. Best of all, I could do it without becoming dependent. I had faced my deepest fears, discovered who I was, and knew that I could survive alone if I had to.

Falling in love has done wonders for my emotional healing. I'm far more open than ever before. I've learned to face difficulties instead of ignoring them or running away. I've learned to see things I would never have noticed in the past. I'm more available than I ever could have imagined.


And my emotions are much closer to the surface, so it really hurt when I first heard that Perry was in the hospital with a tumor in his brain. It hurt to see Perry in that hospital bed and know that there was no hope of recovery. At best the doctors could fight a delaying action, which is why he almost made it to Christmas.

It was encouraging to see Dodie and Perry surrounded by so many friends, coworkers, and family members. It was wonderful to see how their church supported them with everything from just being there to meals to building a handicapped ramp at their house and making their home bathroom handicap accessible.

It was neat spending Thanksgiving with Dodie, Perry, their girls, and my folks. The meal was wonderful, provided by members of their church. Perry was tired but in good spirits. Most of the time, he was as great an encouragement to those around him as we hoped to be to him.

The last time I saw Perry was last Wednesday evening. My girlfriend and I visited and found Perry feeling his best in months. For about a day, there was very little pain, and he could play with their one-year-old daughter, something that meant the world to him.

That was the last good day for Perry. The tumor was growing, reaching into his brain stem, slowly closing down his body. He went back to the hospital, and when they saw there was nothing more to do, his family brought him home to spend his last days surrounded by those who loved him.

I regret that I never got to know Perry. I never chose to spend time with him until the cancer, and I was surprised at how much encouragement he received from my presence. I was also surprised at how I had the strength to be there and offer my support instead of running away from the pain.

I don't know a lot about Perry's life. I know he and my sister had some tough times in their marriage, but in recent years God had been transforming them, building a better marriage, giving them dreams for the future.

Perry was a wonderful man. His wife, three stepdaughters, and two daughters are just a few of the people who are going to miss him.

As for me, I'm going to learn to build friendships instead of keeping people safely at arm's length. I'm sorry it took me this long to learn that lesson. Life isn't an intrusion - it's what we're here for.