Long-lost love

Long-lost love

Be careful when reuniting with an old flame while at death’s door

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 02/26/2014

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Dear Patti,
I’ve lived a wonderful life and, at age 72, I have very few regrets. Unfortunately, I now have a disease and am told I only have 6 to 12 months left. Much as I’d like to live another 10 or 15 years, I’ve made peace with it. 

I’ve had two major relationships in my life. The first was my high school sweetheart, Brenda, with whom I spent eight years prior to our breakup during the last year in college. I married my wife, Marilyn, five years later and we had a wonderful life together for over 30 years. Marilyn passed away six years ago.

As I’m nearing the end of my life, there are only two things I feel are still unfinished. I would like to buy a journal and write down my life experiences. Over the years I’ve refrained from opening up and talking but now realize there’s quite a lot I want to say.  I want my nieces and nephews (Marilyn and I were never able to have children) to know in detail and have a better understanding of what their roots are and there are stories about our family that only I know.

The other issue is Brenda. I loved my wife completely, but I dearly loved Brenda as well and never forgot about her. I know nothing about Brenda’s life except that she’s still alive and lives 50 miles away from our hometown. I don’t know if she’s married, had children, or even if she’s happy or unhappy with how her life turned out. 

Our relationship was so long ago, but she was my first love and tremendously important to me. Before I die, I’d like to contact her but I don’t know if that’s fair for her sake or, for that matter, even for me.
— Marcus

Dear Marcus,
I’m so sorry for all you’re going through and understand that this is not an easy decision to make. If you don’t contact Brenda, there’s the risk of never having knowledge of her life, never having the chance to see her again, and never telling her how significant you felt your relationship was. The desire to reunite is understandable, because it embraces finding sweet nostalgia, safety and joy in the sharing the memories of your youth.

If you do contact her, there’s the risk of the unknown, not knowing what you will find or how it will turn out. There’s the possibility of being rejected because — whatever her reasons are — she may refuse to see you. If you are reconnecting with Brenda to reignite romance, I encourage you to be careful; while the present Brenda may still resemble the woman in your heart, keep in mind that more than 40 years have passed.  There may be very little left of the young woman you once knew and you could end up feeling disenchanted, dissatisfied, painfully alone, and facing a stranger. 

Sometimes people daydream about what might have been years ago. Life, however, has intervened during that period apart. It might be helpful to remember that if she has ended up depressed, angry, obese, frail or unattractive in any way, the girl you once cared about is still there and what you are observing are the after-effects of her life’s journey. If you stay compassionate and carefully listen to what her life has been like, you will probably find your friend again.    

Psychotherapists are sometimes accused of underestimating the powerful nature of long lost loves, viewing them as obsessive, unfulfilled needs and fantasy. While that may be true at times, reunited lovers can really know and love each other. Research indicates that an actual neurological attachment can happen which can be why it’s so enduring and it never leaves your mind. In the event that you and Brenda deeply connect, there is the risk of pain and grief to be faced regarding the inevitable results of your illness. If you decide to contact Brenda, I suggest that you tell her about your health situation right away. No matter what actions you take, be careful to physically drain yourself as little as possible since your health is already compromised. Take care of yourself.  

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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