My last visit with Aaron taught me the most important relationship lesson I never wanted to learn. I held his limp, lifeless hand and sobbed as he lay peacefully in his casket.
"I love you," I repeated, leaning down to kiss his stiff, powdered cheek. He couldn't respond back.
Losing my partner after five years of dating taught me the hardest lesson of my life: everyone I love will eventually die. Granted, Aaron died well before his time, but the truth remains that loss is a profound part of life. All of the relationships we have will be affected by death at some point or another. Aaron's death was the first I had ever experienced, which made his passing even more difficult.
I thought Aaron was my soul mate, and I was convinced we'd get married one day. Losing him taught me that nothing is 100 percent certain in life -- and nothing is 100 percent certain in relationships. The only thing we can be sure of is that everything will change.
Now that I look back on it, I know that my relationship with Aaron wasn't perfect. I've had years to grieve his death, which has allowed me to see our relationship more realistically than idealistically. The truth is, we were too much alike. As a Cancer-Scorpio couple, we were both highly sensitive and emotionally-charged water signs. There would be heated yelling matches, followed by passionate makeup sex. The vicious cycle could be draining.
I've learned that while Aaron will always be one of the great loves of my life, I'm better off married to someone who balances my emotional personality with his calm logic. Of course, my husband David and I fight over our differences at times, but in general, we complement each other beautifully.
As my first long-term adult relationship, Aaron taught me the meaning of true love. When he died, I thought I would also die from the pain of being left behind. While time doesn't heal all wounds, time does cover them with fresh skin. I took my fresh skin back into the world and started dating. To my surprise, I discovered I could love again.
I'm married to a man who understands Aaron's unique role in my life. David visits Aaron's grave with me a few times a year, holding me as I cry.
While Aaron's death taught me some of life's toughest lessons, I don't think I've truly lost him. I read this famous e.e. cummings poem at his funeral: "I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)...I fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet)."
Aaron's influence pumps through my blood every minute, shaping the woman I am and the woman I will become. I will love him eternally.