Friday, September 7, 2018

What I Learned About Love on Santorini

My friend and I were sitting in an open-air restaurant with commanding views of the blue Aegean below us. Despite all the throngs of people wending their way up and down the main shopping street of Oia, a town at the northern end of the Greek island of Santorini, a sense of peace and tranquility surrounded us as we gazed at the water.

I had wanted to return to this place where, four years earlier, Mark and I had visited an art gallery and bought a beautiful reproduction of one of the frescos found at the archeological site of Akrotiri at the southern end of the island. My friend, Craig, had wanted to return to a crystal shop where he had, also four years earlier, purchased a necklace for his partner. We had therefore decided to set out together that morning from our cruise ship to visit this place that was special to both of us. I was, perhaps fittingly, unable to find the art gallery, but we did manage to find the crystal shop and had each purchased a piece of jewelry as a souvenir.

Now, we were sitting in the restaurant, enjoying a glass of wine as we awaited the arrival of my friend's partner from another part of the island. We smiled as a string of donkeys was led down a path next to the restaurant.

As my friend and I talked, the subject of my recent re-entry into the world of dating came up. Craig had met Mark six months before he died, but hadn't had a chance to get to know him. "I'm sure," Craig said at one point, "that Mark told you before he died that he'd like you to be happy, to eventually find someone who you could share your life with."

I looked at Craig and smiled. "Actually," I replied, "no, he never said that. We never had that conversation." A puzzled look crossed Craig's face. I smiled. "That was one area," I continued, "where he simply couldn't go. He never said those things to me because frankly he just couldn't handle the thought of me being with someone else. It was too much for him."

This wasn't the first time someone had made the assumption Craig had made. I think it's part of the story people make up in their minds about people who have a terminal illness. I understand it.

What I didn't say to Craig is how, during the months -- and years -- after Mark died, there were times when I had mourned this inability of Mark's to let me go and wish me well, to leave his blessing upon me to eventually find happiness with someone else. I also came, only fairly recently, to realize how this had held me back from "getting back out there" because I carried feelings of guilt and not wanting to hurt Mark's feelings, even though Mark was no longer here.

Oia: Homes and hotels cascading down toward the hillside.

As I sat there in the moments following my response to Craig's statement, gazing off toward the Aegean, I thought about yet another realization I had come to only a week or so before I had left for Greece ... 

The love that Mark and I had was profound, rich ... and rare. Many, many people expressed this to me both before and after he died. "Most people never experience what you two shared," was a not uncommon statement. What I didn't realize until 2-1/2 years after Mark's death is that those statements had contributed to a belief I carried deep within me that they were right ... and that I would never again find love, for my ability to do so had died with Mark. Furthermore, during those dark months after he died, I could only see the love that he had proffered me, not the ability within me to love freely and deeply, as I had done with him. In those lonely times, I saw not the possibility for me to attract deep love, only the absence of the love I had felt from Mark.

These realizations had only come after I had finally reached a point this past June where I decided two milestones had been reached in my personal development that told me I was ready to start dating. First, I felt I was strong enough in myself, in my sense of self following the deep enmeshment that existed between Mark and me during the three years following his diagnosis, to contemplate entering into another relationship. When Mark died, I didn't know who I was. It took a while for me to find myself. Secondly, I felt like I had grieved completely what had disappeared from my life -- Mark and my relationship with him -- in order to allow me to enter into another relationship without comparing it to what Mark and I had or to compare another man to Mark. 

Me, Rafi and Craig in Oia

All of this flashed through my mind as I sat in that restaurant in Oia. And then it came: Suddenly, I felt Mark's presence in my mind, and the realization burst open there that he had continued to progress, wherever he is, and that he was now in a place where he could joyfully and lovingly wish me well in finding someone to share my life with. There was also a note of apology that he had not been able to do this while he was still here. But the love that I felt from him during that moment, the earnestness of his desire that I find happiness with someone else, more than compensated for any regret or sadness.

A huge smile on my face, I turned back to Craig and shared with him what had just happened, and later, with his partner, Rafi. My heart was singing. Perhaps I would have come to the realization I had just received somewhere else at some other time; but I couldn't help but feel that I was meant to receive it there, among friends in a place that had been special to Mark and me. I knew that this alone had made my trip to Greece worthwhile, and I returned home a changed man.


  1. It can be rather shocking when we receive almost auditory and certainly energetic visits from loved ones that have departed this mortality.

    It’s astonishing when they show up in places that are quotidian in nature, as well as places of special meaning.

    Thanks for the reminder of such experiences.

  2. I think that Santorini is one of the most beautiful places on earth. What a perfect back-drop to the insight you received. And what a gift that insight was.