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Widowed Village connects peers with each other for friendship and sharing. The moderators, administrators, and others involved in running this site are not professionals.

Please don't interpret anything you read here as medical, legal, or otherwise expert advice. Don't disregard any expert's advice or take any action as a result of what you read here.

We're friends, not doctors, financial or legal professionals, and we're not "grief experts." But we are here, and we've been "there."

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. 

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Comment by SweetMelissa on January 25, 2016 at 11:18am

Sue, 

I very much get what you're saying, I've been there done that ...

Maybe, you do need to learn to accept widowhood before you can learn to forgive yourself, I don't rightly know what will get anyone to work on obvious grief issues ...  :-(

The shoulda, woulda, couldas can lock a person in a holding pattern till resolutions to anger, resentments, feeling cheated, ruminations, ungranted prayers &/or wishes can be found ...

I can easily say I wanted to start my new life by my first year, but the burden of unrelenting thoughts & ruminations prevented me from moving forward. No matter how stubborn I was or how much socializing I wanted to do, it didn't help my situation. I finally understood why God had slowed me down to a grinding halt pushing me off the rat wheel -it was to take stalk of everything I had gained as well as lost over my lifetime up to the point of DH's death. Denial for me was ignoring it/not looking back at the past to come to terms with it in a healthly manner.

It took alot of spiritual work to resolve my grief issues. I had to humble myself which was a tough one since I thought I already was, but when I actually felt it deep inside I knew it was different. In addition, I had to be realistic about what I was doing to achieve my goal, understand the purpose of each memory/rumination & how to lay them to rest. Unfortunately, if these issues are not resolved they become baggage/hauntings from the past. They just do not go away on their own accord. :-(

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My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” 
― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland

Comment by only1sue on January 23, 2016 at 10:38pm

I think for me at this stage it is still hard to let go of the dreams Ray and I shared.  I know I can't recreate that with someone else, any new relationship would create it's own hopes and dreams.  I know I need to learn to do things on my own especially travel as I really want to do that.  If anything is going to be ticked off that bucket list it is up to me.  I don't worry a lot about what is motivating me in this, I simply want to be and do things that are age appropriate, though sometimes crazy seems like a good alternative to always showing common sense.  I am a pragmatist so common sense is a byword but I know how to have some fun too and love to laugh.

Melissa, some of what you wrote is very thought provoking so I thank you for that.  I know there is some deeply buried grief I have not yet reached and I need to do that to have stability in my future. BUT in the end I am simply a widow doing what she feels she has to do. I am getting used to that idea, though being single again was never in my game plan. Like you CarolinaHeart I would prefer not to dwell on the past but sometimes that seems to be what happens.  Something triggers an old memory and I have that sad feeling again. Callie2 yes we are responsible for our own feelings and they are just feelings not the living reason for our being and have to be held lightly. Virgogirl, I am glad we met on this site and you could draw strength from that. Sorry though it is the reason we are both here. 

Comment by SweetMelissa on January 23, 2016 at 4:58am

Hi Sue, 

My understanding is the writer is simply saying its okay to act young. I think what might have made it confuding/difficult to follow is her use of a blanket statement; "widow/widowers recovering from looking after a spouse long term tend to act younger". It lacked a connection, information on how she arrived at such a decision w/out a full analysis of all widowed. I, respectfully disagree with her assessment of widowed caregivers being the only ones who suffer from identity crisis; all widowed do. Another comparable stage is mid-life crisis; it can also be triggered by death -parent, family member. Both are caused by external factors, both are part of the natural maturing process, both these transitions are made in crisis mode. Experimenting with a new look by wearing youthful/trendy clothes, bold hair coloring/hairstyles, buying a motorcycle or sports car, trying out risky sports activities, less or more make up, etc. Everyone in crisis mode is apt to try any of these & more. One thing the widowed don't do is divorce -rid old spouse for new younger spouse. We, widowed are unique in that we are/have survived the loss of a meaningful cathexis; our significant other, either married or not, that made our life worth living enough to cause shattering grief and identity loss.

Julia Roberts portrayed a woman experiencing a mid-life crists in the book/2010 movie "Eat, Pray, Love". I, identified with her character's emotional and spiritual journey to full awareness of self to the life affirmations she desperately searched for to heal her soul. I believe its a beautiful insightful movie about the work a person must/can/will do to heal all their wounds -let go of baggage, lay to rest.

People talk about "moving on" at the same time not know what it is or what it entails. Far too often, I've read posts by those years out who basically just live with their grief by numbing themself, try every external modality to rid it as well as some who think if they just keep busy, grief will be fixed on its own.

If you watch the movie, "Eat, Pray, Love", you'll see the character's need to look back on her marriage to resolve issues in order to bring closure, to move on. Issues of anger, resentment, unfairness, pressure, being cheated etc, while seeking a different kind of love & respect for her ex-husband as we do also at a spiritual level. The widowed also have these issues and more because our spouse is dead. By the time I saw this movie, I was 3yrs out and all about healing, finding grief tools to work with. I was no longer sensitive to the difference between death & divorce. I automatically understood its meaning to be able to go beyond it to use all types of information as grief tools.

Every year of grief is filled with different challenges as you've already come to learn. Some issues carry over into the next year depending on the problem or the amount of work needed. They do & can drag on forever till the realization that something needs to be done about it is accepted. Some people seek answers, some people want quick fix answers not the work it requires, others will compartmentalize, run & hide, deny, bury their head in sand like an ostrich, date, recouple, remarry, stay single, become rebellious, etc. The point is, grief is a 24/7 companion, and can easily become one for life if action to resolve issues is not taken. An unexpected resurgenge of grief can happen at any time after years of dormancy. I present this only as information, not to scare anyone into doing things they either don't want to do or think they need to do. We all grieve differently for better or worse.

When its good, a new perspective will emerge, adjustments will be smoother. Being alone wiĺl be easier as well traveling alone. The horse must always come before the cart to lesd the way. 

Caregiving made a major impact on your life, I can easily see how it makes a person feel cheated & resentful. Its not indication of being hateful or mean spirited, sometimes we have emotions we didn't know we had till it/they surfaced. The worst part for me was feeling guilty about everything -just another damn issue to contend with. Arrrrgh! However, everyone has the opportunity to seek spiritual guidance &/or practical advice-grief tools &/or building self esteem &/or different modalities to help move forward with recovery to the very end.

Sorry, if I sound like I'm lecturing -I get into such a hurry to write my thoughts as well as keep the written intact. Basically, I tend to forget there are people on the other side reading it & I make messes when I do editing other than correct spelling errors ... :-)

Hope this helps ....

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“Who are YOU?” said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then."
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)


Comment by Callie2 on January 22, 2016 at 6:00pm
You were both so young when your husband became ill, your feelings are quite understandable. Whether we lose them suddenly or slowly, we certainly didn't plan the outcome and life alone is not easy. It seems you have been doing a lot of thinking lately and that is good. This is your time Sue and I hope you determine what will make you happy and enjoy life. I think this is something we all have to figure out because our thoughts often change with time. Maybe you will find a nice man but even if you don't, I believe you can still find happiness. Other people really can't make us happy-we are responsible for that ourselves. 2016 may be the year you will find the answers you are searching for!
Comment by Virgogirl on January 22, 2016 at 4:27am
I am brand new to this site and while having my morning coffee I starting reading your post and it made me cry.
I felt like this was pretty close to my life experience with my husbands illness.He had ALS and my life stopped at 49 years old .I never went to counseling and tried to tough it out as we all do .I totally relate to your journey and wish you the best for future happiness as I am trying to do the same ,not easy and feel that 8 years of my life were taken and I felt guilty for feeling this way.Thank you for making me feel I'm not alone .

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