According to Christopher Robin, “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Words of wisdom and comfort.
Fear wears many faces. At each stage of life, we feel frightened. Early on, we fret over separation from parents. As teens our fears change: finding our comfort zone with friends, earning good grades, being accepted into the college of our choice, etc. .
As mature adults our fears assume different disguises: empty nests, retirement, to name a few. In our seventies and eighties we realize the inevitability of our own mortality and that of our loved ones.
These days the simple rejoinder by Christopher Robin resonates with me. My biggest fear is losing my John, who is suffering from the final stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. The end is near.
No amount of love, care or prayers can reverse his prognosis. I know in my heart I can’t be greedy, wanting more happy years with him; instead I must be grateful that this September 7th marks the 66th anniversary of our long happy marriage.
Each day I pray to be strong, to accept the inevitable. In spite of living all over the USA, our family is very close. We stay in touch daily, and this past weekend each of our four offspring concurred that it is time to activate hospice. There is no quality of life for our guy. He can no longer walk, his appetite is gone, as is his ability to read or speak more than a few random words. Deep down inside me, I am afraid. It is a fear that descended on me after John’s 2018 diagnosis.
How will I let him go with grace? At least now I can look into his mostly vacant but still beautiful blue eyes. How can I stop covering his thin but forever handsome face with little kisses? We have been a devoted team “through thick and thin.”
Thankfully I know the benefits of hospice. In the nineties I was a hospice volunteer for about three years. The nurse who trained me said, “You will get far more out of this work than you think. Helping someone feel comfortable and at peace is your reward.”
How well I remember two special patients. One wanted me to tell him about the news in the WSJ. His last request was to bring him a homemade lemon meringue pie. He was thrilled as he savored a few bites which I followed from my mother’s delicious recipe. Another gentleman loved Disney movies. One day he announced that he had seen all of them, except Pinocchio. The day before this special gentleman died, we watched that movie together. As he fell asleep, he had a smile on his face.
These are a few experiences which have guided me during these rocky days with John. A few years ago we had marvelous games of Gin Rummy. Being music lovers, we listened to sonatas, concertos and symphonies on my cell phone. John’s flawlessly resonate baritone voice hummed happily.
Helping terminal patients with cancer is different than ones with dementia. Yet there are similarities: accepting the afflicted just as they are…listening with compassion, or sitting in silence and holding hands.
Although I have called myself a “Widow in Training” for some time, and I attend dementia support meetings, there is no escaping nocturnal insomnia, when there is nowhere to hide from my fears. A sleeping pill can help as does praying, reading, meditating, and remembering happy times. Yes, they are substitute bedmates, but they don’t hug back…only the soft sound of our pup Pippa’s occasional snores breaks the silence.
Facing our fears and accepting them are not easy. But to me, it is the only way to reduce them. Yes, sometimes I feel my heart thump wildly. Sometimes tears spontaneously blur my eyesight. I try to tell myself: Don’t project; take each day as it comes; and try hard to find the joy in whatever time John has left. A wee smile of recognition from my precious husband says a million words, and I cherish them. Our life together has been an exceptional gift. Our circle of life, the best.
“How lucky am I to have something (or someone) that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
Thank you, Winnie the Pooh.
Top photo: Bigstock