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

I am lonely, no getting over that fact. I can be out among people all day but I come home to an empty house. After almost six years I am still not used to that. Sometimes when  I am sittting here on a cold winter's night when there is nothing worth watching on the television, when I've finished my latest book and become bored with handcraft, I can find myself with too much time to think. Tonight is one of those nights. So I thought about family life, how it was when we were first married, as we raised our family and how it is now.

When Ray and I were first married his brothers and sisters lived close by. We didn't see a lot of them but enough that the cousins knew each other. We all gathered at Ray's parents house for meals or at one of the local beauty spots for BBQs.Over the years they have all moved further away. This seems to be the pattern in Australia, very few people continue to live in the place where they were born or brought up. For economic reasons,often for employment or sometimes to move closer to his/her family we all move away, if only for a  short time. Some do drift back after they retire.

Ray and I were away from here for ten years. Those were the days when he was a Fisheries Officer and we lived in three different country towns in three very different locations. We always endeavoured to come "home" as frequently as we could to visit our parents but did not always get to see our siblings and their families.As a migrant child with only two parents and a sister I was determined to keep regularly in touch so it was phone calls and letters between visits too.No phone in the house in our first situation so on Friday nights I stood in a phone box by the highway and strained to hear what one parent or other said over the noise of passing traffic.

By the time we returned to our house on the Coast everyone else had moved away. Then we had a caravan and our holidays for a long time were trips made via one or more of the scattered family members. Then of course a growing family who no.longer wanted to take that kind of holiday stopped that from taking place and gradually the bonds between us got weaker. Now I doubt I would recognise some of my neices and nephews it is so long since I've seen them. And almost as long since I have heard from their parents. In a big country like Australia that is what happens. But it doesn't really explain why we let it happen.

When Ray had the strokes his brothers and sisters seemed to be unable to relate to him in the old way finding it hard to see this now disabled version of their formerly very active brother. So  visits were brief or non existent. Of course as his 24/7 caregiver I was Sue the wonderful. Although his brothers and sisters didn't contact often when they did it was to tell me they appreciated what I did for their brother. Then he died and apart from an occasional Christmas card the contact ceased in all cases but one, his older brother's wife still keeps in touch.

Yesterday I had a phone call from her daughter, I call her my best neice as she has brought her mother here several times and visited me in hospital in Sydney. She is stepdaughter to Ray's older brother. I was so surprised to hear from her that I actually cried on the phone, I so miss being in touch with what would now be a large extended family. I have missed out on the weddings, the births of the next generation as none of the families sent Ray and I invitations to the weddings or photos afterwards. Why are some  people so prejudiced against the disabled? When friends in other places invited us to their children's weddings we always managed to get there so I still wonder why did Ray's family shut us out?

I guess some things we will never have an answer for and somehow we have to live with that. On my rounds of visits to older ladies in hospital and nursing homes they ask me the same questions. "Where is my family? Why don't they help me? Don't they want me now I am old? Are they just waiting for me to die so they can inherit my money?" And I honestly don't have an answer for them. Mostly I have never met any of their family members. What happened to "family values" like taking care of the old folks? When did being busy working constitute a reason for going months without contacting relatives, particularly widowed parents in nursing homes?

Maybe we should have raised our kids differently, maybe it is us who should have insisted on them visiting with us, writing letters, talking on the phone to the grandparents and maybe then they would have passed it on to their kids, our grandchildren and the families of our nephews and neices. Or maybe the world we all live in has the effect of changing how they see family and how they use their time. All I really know is that I don't like that things have changed and how that impacts on me as a widow.

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Comment by Rainy (Misty) on August 19, 2018 at 9:33pm

I could have stood up and clapped for you after reading this post.  You've prompted me to go visit my parents tomorrow!  

You are so well spoken, perhaps you should come up with a pamphlet of sorts and shop it out some.  Surely lots of ppl would like to know the do's and don'ts when someone they know and love suddenly becomes disabled.  I'm pretty sure funeral parlors should have some leaflets in the bathroom or somewhere that explains what NOT to say to the bereaved as well.  

Comment by only1sue on August 15, 2018 at 5:26am

Thank you  Phyllis, it is good when someone else understands. I am not blaming our families so much as wishing we had had some education about how to treat others especially family members when they developed a disability as Ray did with the multiple strokes and then the dementia. A few of our friends coped really well and continued to treat him as they had done prior to his strokes and that made life so much better for us . After all a disabled person is still a person first even if they are a person with some  disabilities. And we all need to find respect and companionship among our peers and that applies  for  us as their widows/widowers too.

Comment by Phyllis on August 15, 2018 at 3:37am

Only1Sue, your post really hit home with me. My husband passed six years ago yesterday and i don’t necessarily feel abandoned as much as significantly less important without him.  He was the one with the stories and jokes and everybody knew when Don was in the room. Now that he’s gone, it’s like I don’t really exist. We only had one son who has a physical and learning disability   We do not have any grandchildren and when I am with my family, it seems like I have no purpose, no title.   Just “Aunt Phyl”. I get invited but not asked questions about my activities, what,s new, how are your volunteer activities.  I have found that when I am in a crowd of new people and the talk turns to kids and grandkids, when they find out that I have a disabled son, no husband and no grandchildren, they are finished with me, there’s no sense in asking her anymore questions because she has nothing to add.  Nobody to talk about.  Your remark about people and their attitude towards the disabled is so correct. It’s sad.  And if I feel this way, I can only imagine how insignificant my son feels or your husband felt. All we can do is make this a learning opportunity and reach out to others as it seems you are doing. So good for you and I hope you feel better soon. 

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