dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

A long widowing

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.

Digital Image

Digital Image

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.

 

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Blog Mark II

I started writing this blog more than 5 years ago. August 2012 to be exact. I declared then that I had a plan. I was going to write the blog every day. (How crazy was that? Just like a New Year’s Resolution and with as much chance of fulfilment!)

Monday to Thursday I would share the fascinating facts revealed by the research for my latest book (When the Boats Come Home, about the fisher communities of the East Coast. It was published in 2014).

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Then on Fridays and Saturdays, I would write my Dementia Diary about my experiences with my husband John and his dementia, which had been diagnosed 5 years earlier. Some of those many posts made their way into my second book dealing with caring for someone with dementia, Still Caring, published in 2013.

Still Caring - web

Sundays were planned for writing about faith and life and God as I struggled to keep walking with Him – and my husband – through the valley of the shadow.

I kept to the plan for quite a while. But now it is time for a change of direction. I have moved – or been moved – into a new season of life. My husband John died on 2nd November and I am now a widow.

For the second time.

At first I thought: I can do this. I’ve been here before so I know what to expect. And secondly, because John had dementia, I had lost the person he really was many years before. I had done a lot of my grieving in advance. Surely I was in a better place to deal with this experience than last time?

Wrong. -ish. Nearly a month on and I’m still standing around gawping like a tourist wondering where I am and where I’m going and why isn’t there a tour guide?! Being me, I’ve already downloaded several books on widowhood to my kindle. Some were helpful, some not. So I’ve decided to try to make sense of this – this time – on my own.

This time is the operative word. Because it is completely different from last time. Last time was a sudden traumatic shock and if it hadn’t been for my friends and my church, I would have gone under. (I’ve written about their exemplary love and care for me in ‘A Glimpse of the Kingdom’ in Geoffrey Duncan’s Seeing Christ in Others, Canterbury Press, 2002.)

This time I’m 23 years older. I live in a different part of the country. I belong to a different church. I have different friends. It was a very different relationship which has come to an end. My feelings are different -ish!

Whether a death is long-expected or out of the blue, there is shock. I operated on automatic pilot for several days this time. I look back and wonder did people think me heartless? Or did the wiser ones understand? When the shock hit and my knees buckled, I was ridiculously surprised! Why is this happening? I was prepared – surely I was prepared for his death? But not for the wave upon wave of grief which drenched me when I was unawares.

And anyway, who was I weeping for? Surely not for John was so gloriously released from the horror of dementia? John who in a rare moment of lucidity had assured me of his faith in Jesus Christ and the new life awaiting him?

No. I have been weeping for myself. For what feels like long wasted years – the dementia years chronicled in the Dementia Diaries. For all that never was and now never can be.

Some of the weeping is simple selfish self-pity – oh poor poor me, as if no one else was currently suffering much, much worse! And there is fear – fear of the unknown, fear of the future, fear of the vast open possibilities out there now that I don’t have to stay within a fast drive to the Care Home to deal with an emergency.

Yes, I have emerged from the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but it still casts its baleful gloom. The funeral is a few days ahead. Maybe once that is over I will be able to see a bit further.

Or maybe not.

Does that matter? Again, maybe not. ‘For we live by faith, not by sight.’ 2 Corinthians 5:7.

I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

 

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