AND THE LESSONS CONTINUE…

A few days ago it occurred to me that for those of us whose spouse suffered a long and often painful end–perhaps months or as in my case (and perhaps yours), years– there is one small compensation in living on: I realized that I no longer worry all the time or walk through my days waiting for the other shoe to drop or sleep with one ear open for a possible change in breathing or a fall or other catastrophe. Not that I wouldn’t cut off a vital body part to have him back for an hour or a day, but there is that release of responsibility.

Then just a couple of days later I developed some “a-typical” (the doctor’s terminology) symptoms that lasted through one night and into the morning. Alone as I am (without children or other family nearby) and ingrained with a need not to “bother” anyone (although I am blessed with wonderful friends and neighbors), I could not decide what to do. Finally I told myself the choice was: either sit and worry and hope symptoms that had last several hours would simply go away or get myself to a walk-in clinic and find out what was going on. I chose Door #2. Foolishly I drove myself to a walk-in clinic where I found that my description of what was going on was taken VERY seriously. Long story short I went directly from there to the ER at the nearby hospital and this time the clinic doctor gave me HER choice: either go in an ambulance or call someone to come and take me. She was clearly upset that I had elected to drive myself to her clinic! I called my sister-in-law.

Long story short–I was in hospital for 2 nights and 3 days; they ran tests, drew blood (every 4 hrs), scheduled a stress test and eventually sent me home without really identifying the root of the problem,. The symptoms improved by the end of that first day and did not return. I came away with a solid baseline of test results that told me whatever my problem was it was not a cardiac issue–that was certainly good news given a strong family history of heart disease. I also came away with a connection to a cardiologist–a specialist I should have added to my team of doctors well before now. And–should those same symptoms reappear, at least I can be fairly certain the problem is not with my heart.

But the real pony in this one is that as news spread friends came…and kept coming and calling and checking in. I was not alone. Mentally I knew that I could have called any one of them, but emotionally I had not yet accepted that their need to be there for me was more than being there because L had asked them to be.  I had not yet accepted that they wanted to be there because it was ME. And when I came home (again with my sister-in-law seeing me safely back) I got out of the car and there on the grass at my feet was a beautiful bird feather–as has been the case on a numbers of occasions when I have learned one more lesson in this journey.

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2 thoughts on “AND THE LESSONS CONTINUE…

  1. I was pretty close to despair when I found this blog. It mirrored my experiences of new widowhood so perfectly. I am isolated – not really, because I do have good friends – but my beloved daughter is 300 miles away in London and I don’t have any other family nearby. I am reluctant to lean too heavily on friends, so spend a lot of time, like you, wasting time. I am not lonely – I am lonely for my husband. Thank you for this.

    1. Ann, Thank you for writing. Although you do not say how long it has been since your husband’s death it really doesn’t matter. I am finding that after thinking I was doing so well, I am suddenly missing him more than I have before. The lesson he taught me as he endured his illness was that he always focused on others. If they asked about his health or how he was doing, he was polite most of the time although sometimes he would be frustrated enough and the friend would be close enough that he would say, “I’m dying–that’s how I’m doing.” Such occasions were rare but showed that he was human. But ninety-nine percent of the time he would answer them with something like “Still here” or “Hanging in there” and quickly move the focus to them and their lives–“How was that trip?” “Did you see that ballgame?” “What do you think of….?” He was much loved by all who knew him and I find that friends love it when I “include” him by reminding them of some event we all shared or tell them some detail about him that makes them smile or laugh. I am the keeper of his memory and I find that keeping that alive helps me. I also admit that I talk to him on a regular basis–conversations (one-sided to be sure) that are pretty much like the ones we shared in life–sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes ticked off! I have also tried hard to adopt his way of staying in touch with others rather than waiting for them to stay in touch with me. The truth is that friends rarely know what to do to help after awhile–the funeral is easy–there’s food to be brought, the possibility of picking up out-of-town mourners at the airport, and other tasks that are standard fare for the occasion. But as time passed I quickly learned that because I have always been viewed by friends and family as incredibly strong everyone was comfortable returning to their daily routines assuming that I was managing well. Reluctantly I have learned that I need to expand my “community” and I have found various ways to do that. I do not expect these new contacts to become people I hang out with–although I am open to that developing. Instead I have put myself into situations where I might be working on some project or attending some event where there are people I can connect with if only for that one occasion. It is not always successful but there are more days (and nights) now when I look back on the hours and find some satisfaction in how the day has gone. There are also times that I look forward to—often events or occasions that L and I shared and that hold wonderful memories for me. Finally I have surrounded myself with memories–not a shrine but rather the things we chose and lived with together–they make me smile although I do understand that for many people such mementos are painful. In short what I have accepted is that this journey is in many ways an exploration–I do not know the destination but I know I must move forward. All best wishes to you. Anna

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