How To Love Someone By Taking Care Of Them

In less than a week, my boyfriend Wyatt and I will have been together for 9 months. In an objective sense, this is not a lot of time. But to me, at 24, it feels like forever. This is the longest relationship I have ever been in, three times as long as any relationship before it. It feels like just yesterday that I was staring at a billboard for Ryan Murphy’s “Feud” when I turned around and spotted him outside the Carney’s on Sunset Boulevard. Going back in my mind, however, I can clearly remember watching every episode of Feud together, right after taking our Truvada. God we were so gay.

Early in my relationship Wyatt and I had an incredible amount of fun. Every time we hung out was an adventure. The night he brought over flatbread for us to eat and I said “To hell with my diet!” The night he dragged me by the hand and took me through a grilled cheese restaurant to the secret restaurant hiding in the back. The night that we drove to the beach in the middle of the night because we just felt like it, and I played “On Eagle’s Wings” on repeat in the car until he asked me politely to stop.

But soon our little adventures changed. The wave of infatuation and fantasy took a crash. He told me that he needed to go up to Fresno for the weekend, to take care of some stuff with family. When I asked him what he needed to take care of, he said he would tell me more when he came back. I missed him when he was gone, and I could tell that his spirits were a little low. When he came back, we sat on my couch and I asked him what had happened. He told me that his father had called him to tell him that there was a spot on his liver. My heart dropped. I didn’t know what to say. He told me that they didn’t know what it was yet, but that if it was cancer, they were going to fight it as hard as they could. He began to cry. I did the only thing I knew how to do – I took him in my arms and I held him. I told him that I loved him, and that it was in God’s hands. It was all I could do. This was a month into our relationship.

After that I knew things would change. I tried to look at it from a positive perspective. I had an opportunity to be of service. I was in Wyatt’s life at this exact moment because I was supposed to be. And now, I had the opportunity to love him and care for him while he went through the most difficult experience of his life.

A week or so later, he told me that his father had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I felt a pit in my stomach. I knew that that was the worst diagnosis possible. Wyatt told me that he and his father were committed to fighting the cancer, that his dad was eating healthily and starting chemotherapy, and that Wyatt would be going up to Fresno regularly to check on him and take him to doctor’s appointments. Again, I did the only thing that I knew to do. I told Wyatt that I would be there for him, and I loved him.

He had been used to being in the role of caretaker, after an accident left his mother with memory problems when he was thirteen. But now, instead of taking care of just her, he had to take care of both of his parents. I thought about my mother, and how she cared for her mother when she had Alzheimer’s. And I thought about my father, and how he had to take care of both of his parents as they got older and things were nearing the end. But my parents were in their 50’s when that was happening. They were fully grown adults, with children. Wyatt is 26 years old. These are not the things most 26 year olds have to deal with.

Wyatt began to regularly drive up to Fresno to check on his dad. We had now been dating for several months, and his dad was responding well to chemotherapy. Wyatt would tell me how his father was doing, and expressed hope that he would recover. In the back of my mind, however, was a nagging thought.

First, and most importantly, I recognize that nothing about this situation had anything to do with me. I was there to be of service to my boyfriend, and to love him. But a part of me was thinking of my future. If things with Wyatt continued on the way they were, then we were going to be a part of each other’s lives for a very long time. And one of the things that you do in a relationship is meet the other person’s parents. Now, I’m not trying to say that I wanted to meet Wyatt’s parents after dating him all of three months, but it was becoming clear to me that I may never get the chance to meet his father. But more than that, his father may never even know that I existed in the first place.

Wyatt told me a few weeks into dating that he had never explicitly told his parents that he was bisexual. With the kind of dynamic he had with his parents, it had never come up. My family dynamic is very different, so I had a hard time understanding this. And, under normal circumstances, this probably would have been something we would have dealt with very differently. But these were not normal circumstances. There was a ticking time bomb, and any day it might be too late. I wanted Wyatt to tell his parents about me, sooner rather than later.

Looking back, I feel regret with the way that I handled things. I think I could have been gentler, and I could have set my own feelings aside and thought more about what Wyatt was going through and what I could do to make things as easy as possible for him. But at the time, I felt such fear at the thought that I may never get to meet the father of the man I loved. And I was afraid for Wyatt’s sake, that his father may die and never really know who his son was.

So I pushed. I pushed Wyatt to come out to his father. Wyatt told me that his main priority was his father’s health, that he do everything he could to take care of his father. But still, I pushed. I felt so strongly that if Wyatt did not tell his dad while he still had the chance, that he would regret it for the rest of his life. And, each time Wyatt came back from Fresno without having told his father, I felt more and more fear.

One day, in early July, Wyatt woke me up. He had to leave for Fresno immediately. He’d gotten a call from his dad’s friend, who said that he couldn’t get ahold of his father. I knew what had happened. I hugged him, and I told him I loved him, and he left for Fresno. I got a text from him an hour later saying that his father had passed.

I can’t describe how I felt in that moment. I can’t remember. All I remember is thinking about Wyatt and how he was feeling. Wanting to do whatever I could possibly do from Los Angeles to be there for him. And in the back of my head, the nagging thought finally let go.

Wyatt stayed in Fresno for a week. He took care of his mother, and he took care of the funeral. Several of his close friends came to it to show up for him. I wish that I could have been there for him in that way too, but I knew it wasn’t the right timing. I knew that I could be there for him in a better way by staying here. I was sad at the way that things had turned out. I was sad that I felt this obstacle standing in the way of my ability to comfort my boyfriend. But I knew that I had to respect it, because as upset as I felt about the way things were, I couldn’t even begin to imagine the things Wyatt was feeling. I talked to friends and family asking what I could do. Everyone said the same thing- that he would not truly feel the effects of it until at least a month or two later. I tried to remind myself of that, to remember that grief comes out in unexpected ways.

I was there for Wyatt. Before he left for Fresno, we had discussed him moving in, since he already pretty much spent 6 days a week at my place. The night he got back, I picked up dinner and arranged it for us in a secret garden behind my apartment. I met Wyatt there with a bouquet of roses, and I formally asked him to move in with me. He said yes.

I am 24 years old. I have never been in a serious relationship before. And now, while Wyatt was caretaker to his mother, it was up to me to take care of him. Over the next few weeks, I wanted to take care of him. But it was difficult. I’m used to listening when someone wants to talk, to holding them and telling them that everything was going to be all right. But Wyatt was more reserved than I had expected. He didn’t express his innermost feelings to me as readily as I had expected. I didn’t know how to be there for him when I felt as though I didn’t know what he was thinking or feeling. I began to feel frustrated.

Grief is a funny thing. It comes out in different ways for different people. And I was not as equipped as I thought to be there for someone going through what Wyatt was going through. For the most part, I think I did a good job. I told him that I loved him, I was attentive, I tried to do fun and special things for us. But in other ways, I missed the mark. I would get frustrated when I felt like he wasn’t being open about his emotions with me. I would blame him for not being emotionally vulnerable, emotionally honest. I expected in my mind that he would be opening up to me constantly, that me holding him and him crying would be a daily routine. But it wasn’t. And there were times when I forgot that he was going through any grief at all.

It took me a while to adjust to this new normal. It was hard for me to learn to put my wants and desires aside for a moment to focus on being there for my boyfriend. Because I still wanted the things I wanted. I wanted the emotional connection, the vulnerability, the closeness and the intimacy that I had so desperately craved out of a relationship. I still wanted him to tell his mother about me, sooner rather than later. I wanted what I wanted and I did not want to wait. And I had to accept that, after Wyatt’s life had been so completely and horribly upheaved, overturn, and torn apart, that he was going to need to be a lot more guarded than I would like. Because that is how people protect themselves, and how they carry on when horrible things happen to them.

And Wyatt is a caretaker, through and through. He is someone who is more than used to setting aside his own wants, needs, and desires in order to show up and take care of what needs to be taken care of. That is something I greatly admire about him, even if sometimes it keeps me at a distance. With communication, and patience, and willingness, Wyatt and I got through the worst of it together. And although I only really know a small amount of the pain and the grief that he has gone through, I have been able to take care of him. And through all of it, he never stopped trying to take care of me too.

A little over a month ago, Wyatt told his mother about me. And it wasn’t the Hollywood magic moment I expected it to be. But it wasn’t about me. I heard Wyatt today on the phone with his mother, who called him upset and needing to hear from him. And I heard him on the phone with his mother, strong but reassuring, telling her that everything was all right, that everything would be okay. And my love for him deepened in that moment. Because I realized just how much he does to care for his mother, and how much he cared for his father, and how much he cares for me. And I care for him too. More than anything.

-Theodore Dandy