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Joan Sutton

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My Life as an Alzheimer's Widow

Posted: 03/24/2013 2:25 pm

Ten weeks have passed since my husband died. Ten weeks of a new status --widow. Widow. The word just seems to beg to be followed by a period. Period. The end: The end of years of love, intimacy, sex, companionship, friendship, partnership, marriage, the end of status -- wife.

Given that the last seven were spent in the company of that thief, Alzheimer's, years in which bits of my husband were stolen away from me, day by day, week by week, month by month, one might wonder why the actual death is so painful. I expected that I would feel relief, a burden lifted, but that has not happened. It is puzzling. Surely I have been saying goodbye for years? Yes. But in those years, there was presence, the weight and sprawl of a body in bed, the sound of breathing, the touch of warm skin. With presence, there was possibility. Now there is absence, and with that, certainty. Period. The end.

In the beginning of this new status, I was numb. There was much to do, people to notify, a service to be organized, others to be comforted, paperwork to put in place, letters to answer. And then there was exhaustion, a deep, years old fatigue of body and the spirit, the sum of years of sleeping and yet, not quite sleeping. Now, I slept. And slept.

Awake, I did not know what to do with my days. I was unmoored, lost. I wanted to be alone. I wanted company. I made appointments, then cancelled them, started something, left it undone, wandered through the apartment marveling at how noisy silence can be. I never understood why people would turn on the television and leave it on when they were not watching it. Now, that nonsensical murmur is my companion too.

Grief was set aside, but it was there, clamouring to be let out. It came in many guises: a terrible restlessness that made me want to run; an unfocused anger; lack of patience with nonsense; and, to my surprise, it assumed physical form, nausea, attacks of hyperventilating. The tears were beating against my skin, constant, contained, but there.

I comfort myself with things. Walking the dog, I wear my husband's scarf and gloves. I sleep in his nightshirt, wrap myself in his cardigan when there is a chill. Touch his ties, his shirts, his jackets. Savor the remnants of Eau Sauvage; turn my head at the smell of a cigar. To the cigar, not from it. Consider the last bottle of wine he ordered, decide to save it for another day.

People reach out, and I appreciate that. I want to talk about my husband, to hear stories about him, to know what he meant to others, and, especially, to share anecdotes that have, at their heart, laughter. There has also been an onslaught of advice. Move. Don't move. Go back to Toronto. Stay in New York. Do something. Do nothing. Don't throw anything away. Call in the Salvation Army and get rid of everything. My favorite; wear more rouge. The yuckiest: which dating service to employ. Please!

People tell me I am lucky. Lucky to have known such a love. Lucky to have such glorious memories. Yes. True. But that is also the source of the pain. The greater the love; the greater the sorrow. People tell me that life goes on and yes, I know that. That is why I weep. I sit in the park with our dog, and I see life going on all around me. How can that be? Should the world not stop when such a splendid human being dies?

There has also been a plethora of articles and books on how to grieve. What, I wonder, did previous generations do without all these how-to manuals? Has all this instruction made us any better lovers, parents, managers of money, crises, our planet, than our parents were? Is there any part of life today that has not been commercialized, turned into a get rich formula for someone?

Fortunately, all the advice on grieving and mourning come to the same conclusion: each person has to find their own way. I am glad of that. My marriage was mine, unique to me. I want to own my own mourning too, thank you very much, not have it reduced to a common denominator.

This week, number ten of being a widow, will also mark what I suspect is just the first of a year of terrible firsts. A 34th anniversary, with no husband to raise a glass to me, and ask whether I would do it all again.

Yes, my darling. I would do it all -- all -- even the last years --again. In a minute. But, for now, I relive it. And when I see a good looking man tip his hat at a woman, automatically assuming that she is a lady, I smile. And I cry. At the same time. That is how I mourn.

 
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