When my husband was sick, during the last thirteen years of his life almost I was always looking for the way ahead. i was always searching for answers, looking for ways to improve his health, looking for the magic exercises that would make him stronger, the recipes that would give him energy without affecting his diabetic readings. In other words I was always seeking the impossible. I am wired that way. I want to help, I want to support. I wanted to love him better. I wanted him to be able to use my love to make him stronger, I wanted to show the man that I loved him, I wanted to have him feel it in his bones.
Unfortunately the love we had had as a young couple starting out faded. It was a steady affection that replaced it but that too seemed to go when he had the strokes. A lot of stroke sufferers cannot express the love they feel (if indeed they do feel it) and that applied to Ray, he could not express love from 1999 on except under certain circumstances. For a small grandchild, or his kid sister, for an old neighbour or friend who he held dear Ray would have that soft smile on his face. But not for me. I was his wife, looking after him was my duty. How I envied those people whose partner was one who expressed affection and did give him/her a squeeze, a quick kiss, some sign of affection beyond what I lived with.
But by nature Ray was kind so people outside of our marriage did see his kindness as love. I did sometimes. At times I could see that he wanted to do something for me, he had when he had been healthy. He always, when he was healthy, questioned why he should ever have to say he loved me when of course he showed that he did in so many different ways, didn't he? I had to admit that was so. Replacing a washer in a tape - I did it because I love you. Putting new wire on the clothesline - I did it because I love you. Mowing the grass before it gets knee high - I did it because I love you. I know many, many women suffer this with their husband too whether they are sick or well, that incapacity to say what they actually feel in the way their partner needs to hear it.
So to show my super love for him I did the very best I could do for him. I was faithful, loyal, kind and protective, I was good to our children, good to his family as well as mine, good to the friends he had accumulated, if they liked him I held onto them. I planned our holidays so we could meet up with them, I wrote letters to them, I phoned them on their birthdays and at Christmas time. I thought that was what a good wife did. I guess that is why over 200 people attended his funeral.
And so in being Ray's wife I lost myself. I still looked like the Sue who everyone knew, I had the same smile as she did but something inside me was dying. I was too much focused on Ray and his needs and very little on my own needs. I think that is why when Ray died I did not recover in the way everyone had expected. I really didn't know who I was if I was not Ray's caregiver. Who was this woman who had given up so much to look after an invalid husband when that invalid husband had gone? I think firstly I mourned for the Ray I once knew, then the life that we had shared, then the new life I had built as a caregiver and finally the marriage that had died somewhere along the way. There were so many broken building blocks my life looked to me like a pile of rubble.
I still mourn. Now it is for the things we were going to do, the future that we had left until we retired. Ray was very big on that. It was I who suggested that we do as much travelling as we could afford to and then leave the rest until our retirement, Ray would have left it all till then and so I do have some memories of us traveling together. I have the pics of us in England, the ten day trip on the Continent, the bus tours we took for a few years. They are lovely memories and I am so pleased we did what we did. I mourn for the circumstances that led to his death, that long, long goodbye, particularly with a mind clouded by the dementia at the end. The "till death us do part" turned into "till extreme invalidity do us part". I was not even there when he died, on the way back to the nursing home as I had gone home to have a shower, but not actually there.
And now people say to me : "Now is the time to do what you really want to do" and I want to ask them what that is, do they know what I want to do because I do not know what I want. What I really want is my retirement plan back. I was promised by my husband that when we retired we would do all of these marvelous things, I just had to be patient and that time would come. "Why do you want to do all this stuff now?" he would ask me. "There will be plenty of time for that when we retire." Sure buddy, there should have been, but there never was, was there?