I read many r/poly posts about how parenting and managing a house feels easier for trios and quads, because the additional partnerships extend everyone’s available support. This is especially critical at mid-life. With aging and sometimes ailing parents, work obligations, even adult children who still live at home, midlife is a time of increasing stress, a time we become more familiar with loss. My father has suffered a heart attack and cancer, and my father-in-law’s recent cancer prognosis has been…well, I think we’re all in shock right now. None of us thought it was this bad. We assumed we’d have more time.
Having the prognosis is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, knowing how little time you have with a loved one makes you prioritize it. On the other, you live with the apprehension of the other shoe dropping. The desire to be with your loved one is entangled with the dread of loss to come.
My husband admits he doesn’t ask many questions about his father’s condition, that it feels like a defense mechanism. I told him it seems reasonable – our minds do what they do to protect us. I encourage him to be exactly as he needs to be at any given moment.
My boyfriend’s father passed away when he was ten years younger than our fathers are now, so he knows all too well the difficult days ahead. His empathy, support, and friendship for both of us is a gift.
As always, at the crux of our poly family is communication. I appreciate that we make a point to state our intent and expectations with one another, even when it is well-established between us. If nothing, it reaffirms the strength and health of the bond we share.
My husband and I have had many frank conversations about our future; about our parents, our own mortality, and what matters most in the years ahead. We’ve talked about worst-case scenarios. What we want. What we don’t. We not only know each other’s wishes, we have the means to ensure they’re honored if anything happens. No conversation about the consequences of illness or age is ever pleasant, but they are all necessary.
My husband may not need to hear me say that I’m here for him. He may not need me to acknowledge that worry, sorrow, and myriad other emotions swirling around inside him right now, may make him seem preoccupied or less affectionate, and it’s not a reflection of his feelings for me, simply how he is coping with the situation; he may not need for me to say that I’m prepared for it and it’s okay, but he is reassured when he hears it.
My boyfriend may not need to hear me say I’m aware of the stress my father-in-law’s health will have on all of us. He may not require me to acknowledge I’m preoccupied and less affectionate when I’m with him, or tell him it’s not a reflection of my feelings for him but my response to the situation, and that I’m sorry for anything that comes at him sideways as a result. But, he is reassured when he hears it.