One of the answers to a comment I wrote on one of the forums intrigued me. The writer seemed to be saying that widows/widowers recovering from looking after a spouse long term tend to act younger, or what I think she was saying anyway. I kind of understand this. When you are a full time caregiver for many years (12 for me) it is like your life is put on hold so when the person you love so much and who you have been caring for so long dies it is like you want to revert to where you were when all this started. In a way I wanted to regain some of that life I missed out on for so long while Ray, absorbed by what was happening to his mind and his health, withdrew into himself. I understood what was happening and why but it was still painful to watch and I did so often feel unsupported not only by him, my life partner, but by all of those who drifted out of our lives because of this great life changing series of events.
During the caregiving years, especially from 2006 on, when I realised that Ray was more like an 80 year old than his true age, early 60s we did adapt our lifestyle to allow for his need to sleep so much. All activities occurred wherever possible in the mornings so he had the afternoon to rest. I didn't get any help until five years before he died so by then the burden of caregiving occupied me full time. From that period on I did get a shower nurse a couple of times a week and I had an inhome carer for three hours on Fridays. We did manage to get away sometimes but as Ray traveled with wheelchair, medication, protective clothing etc it was a bit like taking a hospital ward with us. And then there was the difficulty of finding rooms with disabled showers with hand held hoses etc, that is if we were lucky enough to find accommodation with disabled access suitable for someone in a wheelchair.
I know it was a different lifestyle to those we knew who have lost a spouse suddenly or after a brief illness as not so much of their life was dominated by the slow deterioration, the many visits to doctors, specialists, times in hospital etc. It certainly was a long journey for Ray and I with such unenviable combinations of illness, and brief periods of wellness that we made the most of. Yes, we did make our lives as good as we could but the fact that someone is ill means they are not able to do what they would have naturally done at that time of their lives. The lifestyle changed, the ageing process was speeding up and some of the changes meant friends dropped away. Who wants to have dinner out with a couple where one is subject to choking fits and the other spends most of her time slicing their dinner into tiny pieces? Who want to spend time with someone who seems to spend most of their time in the bathroom? And then the dementia struck so conversation was so different. Now his thought processes were slower, and there was no mention of past events as they had been forgotten so conversations with those other than family members were very stilted and difficult sometimes to understand..
I am the age I am. 68. No getting past that but the age I was when Ray had the first stroke was 43. So do I feel 43? No I don't. So can I go back to the age I was when Ray had the second and third strokes the ones that incapacitated him and caused me to resign from my career to look after him? No of course not, he was 57 and I was 52. I don't even remember what it felt like to be 52. I know I was busy working part time in paid work, part time in the church, and the days off were full of housework and yard work and visiting family, being a daughter, mother. mother-in-law, grandmother, so may different things. I had had to do a lot of extra chores from the time of the first stroke as Ray from the first stroke had massive fatigue issues. He had held down a job but spent most of his time at home sleeping. The handyman, lawn mowing person, car maintenance man etc was gone. The boys, when they thought of it, mowed the lawn but the chores their father did were now mine.
I get told not to dwell on that, not to dwell on the past. I am told I have to "move on". Well no I don't. What I have to do is build a new life. And that is what I am doing day by day. I do a lot of what I did before the major strokes, that is I work in parish doing pastoral care, still belong to the Lions Club and several other helping hand organisations . But I work differently, I do not feel as young and energetic as I did back then and I do it more slowly. So the days get filled more easily I guess. I am an older woman now with all an older woman's worries. When I am out I show my smiley face, I laugh and joke with those I value as friends. I try to be positive, to remember that no-one really wants to hear of all my troubles and woes, they most likely have similar ones of their own.
I do envy those who still have their husbands, who are doing the round Australia trip, going overseas, sending back the pics of "him and I doing this, him and I seeing that", it is hard not to be envious. I am learning to travel on my own, to plan trips and then carry them out. I don't really like travelling on my own as it is lonely and somehow those memories fade faster as there is no-one to review them with. And although I can find people to engage in small talk with wherever I go there is no-one to enjoy the things that Ray and I enjoyed together. And even if I find a partner that may not be possible either, he and I would have to build a new partnership based on what we both like now, in this time, and perhaps even try to understand a little of where we have been in the past and how we got to be what we are now.
Maybe in 2016 I will find the answer lies more in what I want out of life, this life that has been delayed so long. Because it has been delayed, the free and easy times, both by my past caregiving role and by the three years of grieving for what has gone. What has gone being both my man and the life I had expected to live with him. Some of those dreams died hard. I wanted them to still be realistic but I am slowly learning to accept that they are not possible. What is possible I will try to make happen.When all is said and done it is up to me.