It has been nearly two months since my husband John passed away in my arms, as I was helping him from his wheelchair to his bed. John had been having difficulty breathing and was experiencing pain in the side of his abdomen. This had been going on for two days and I was alarmed. There have been so many instances like this, so I didn't anticipate his inability to snap back from it once again.
I went into his room after he had a nap. I asked him how he was.
"I feel good." I asked him if he was in pain.
"No," he said.
Those were the last words he spoke.
He had slept in his chair and wanted to be in his bed, so he asked me to help him. During that process, he simply slumped to one side. I struggled to get him onto the bed and tried to wake him. This had happened before, several times, but this time, he didn't wake up.
John had experienced many health issues, some really serious, since he had a severe stroke eight years ago. We dealt with problems as they arose and with medical intervention, had always moved forward. Clearly his external deficit on the right side of his body left him without function. It caused countless other problems. But there were internal issues at play as well, that were not so apparent.
For nearly a year, John was a Hospice patient, so a nurse and bath aide came to visit at least three times per week. These angels of mercy not only helped John, but they were invaluable to me. Since our moving to the Ozarks, nobody has ever visited us three times per week, or more, so we looked forward to seeing them. I was especially grateful because they relieved the heavy burden of responsibility for John's health care from my shoulders.
I am so grateful to Allison and Liz for all they did for John and for me. I will always be appreciative.
Each month, Hospice offered a 5-day respite, whereby John would spend 5-days at a local nursing home, leaving me with all that time to do whatever I wanted. I usually spent that time cleaning the house without interruption, playing my favorite music as loud as I wanted, and even singing, which I could never do in anyone else's company because I suck at it. John was always quick to point that out. More laughter! Sometimes I went out with friends, but usually, I just needed time to chill alone.
John would call me in the mornings and sometimes throughout the day. We would talk about the latest goings on in the political world, people I'd heard from, what was going on with our two kids and their families, and of course, the weather which we old people often obsess over. I told him when he was at respite and he'd call me, it was like having a boyfriend. On the last day, I was always anxious for him to come home, only to begin the often painful cycle again.
I make no excuses, but must admit that respite was a lifeline for me. Caring for him, monitoring his medications, vital signs, and trying to keep him as healthy as I could was exhausting. At the same time, I cared for our aging cat family, did all the chores, and tried keeping up with everything to run a household. It was especially hard when I got sick. And, I seemed to be sick often. Constant worry and wondering what to do if something happened to him or to me, caused constant anxiety. The responsibility was often times more than I could cope with.
Today, I find myself thinking about all that has happened, not just in the last eight years, but the years when we were so happy here, exploring new places and enjoying the beauty of our surroundings. We both loved it here, and although we miss our friends and family back home, we loved where we live.
The last eight years were dark days for sure. And although I miss my life partner and companion, I wouldn't want to revisit all that we went through again.
So now I sadly wear my new title. It is hard to say it out loud. I am a widow!
The wounds are still fresh, but I know I will be OK. I've always been resilient. I'm proud to have survived those dark days. And, my heart is full as I feel the love of friends, family, and everyone around me who have been so helpful. I know I have leaned on so many. That is not something I'm comfortable doing, but they have kept me standing.
One of my favorite words is 'understanding.'
I now practice that on myself as I try to sort out the often conflicting emotions I now feel. I am looking through a lens of awareness and hopefulness where once there was neither. I will always miss John. And, I will always talk to him, as if he is still here. I may not verbalize those words, but they are there, even if only in my head where only I can hear them. I have finally come to the realization that he isn't just at respite and is not coming home again. But he left me with so many thoughts, so many memories, two beautiful children, and a lifetime of laughter. Who can ask for anything more? I'll be OK.