I have wonderful friends. My women friends are wise, feisty, bright and lovely. But recently, one friend who ticks all those boxes was having a hard time of it. She’d had a stroke and though she was recovering magnificently physically, she was finding life hard and difficult. Her husband of many decades, who suffers from dementia, had finally agreed it was time for him to go into full-time care, but strangely this did not help her emotionally.
And now I know why. She is being widowed. As I was, four years ago when my husband went into an end-of-life care home. As the days and weeks went by, he became less and less the man I had known, the man I had married. The person I was visiting was a stranger, living a life separate from me, mainly unknown to me. Our points of contact were less and less.
And as the dementia overwhelmed his mind, I could no longer share the daily happenings of my life, or the worries about the boiler or the car. He could no longer help me. He was no longer able.
And the drift apart became an uncrossable chasm. He was someone else. And I was stranded on the other side.
To all intents and purposes, I was a widow. The helpless tears I shed after every visit were grief. Just like a widow visiting her husband’s grave.
I realise this, looking back. I thought it was depression! I comfort ate, put on weight, neglected myself, my home, my work. I ricocheted emotionally from manic (got to get a grip!) to despair. And I scolded myself and struggled to pull myself out of it.
Looking back, I wish I had been more gentle with myself. I wish someone had told me that the long goodbye was in fact a long widowing. That my reactions were normal and reasonable.
The big challenge for the dementia spouse is how you will deal with this person who bears your loved one’s name but is now nothing like them. Marriage vows call us to keep loving and honouring in sickness as in health. It’s not easy. But oh, I pity today’s unmarried couples who do not even have the promise of loyalty and care till death do them part!
The dementia spouse walks a hard road as they watch their loved one recede further and further from sight or any hope of connection. It is a long widowing.
But there is One who will walk with you and carry you, if you will let Him. I frankly could not have walked this road to the end without Him. ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’
I am so grateful.