Archive for July, 2008

July 19, 2008

Widowhood 101

I know y’all have been wondering where Hotclue and I have been for the past six months. I’m finally ready now to talk, because we’ve missed you too, and I, more than anyone, have missed Hotclue. For a long time now, she hasn’t been around, and in truth, neither have I.

To start with, my husband, Stan, had been in end stage COPD for quite a while. He also had been diagnosed with advanced dementia last fall, not that I didn’t know he had it, but to be faced with it in an actual written diagnosis sort of puts a different light on it. You can’t deny it any longer, not even to yourself.

There’s something that anyone who has lived with a person with dementia knows. You don’t notice it so much because you grow into it with them, day by day. Who notices someone’s hair getting longer day by day? Nobody, really. Just all of a sudden, you notice it’s too long and it’s time to do something about it. And so it was with Stan. I’d go on day by day, then something would happen to jar me, something new, and that little voice inside would say, he’s getting worse. A lot worse.

Still, he wasn’t that hard to manage, since he’d done a complete lifestyle turnaround and become a very compliant and agreeable little boy. “Whatever you want” or “whatever you say” became his standard answer to everything. That’s not much help when you have a question you can’t answer yourself, but still, that was our day-to-day life.

In addition, he had a weak heart, and for about six months had had a terrible reaction to, I think, his last flu shot. I say the flu shot because he was very allergic to MSG, and the flu shots last year, according to my sources rooting around on the Internet, had MSG in it, probably to preserve it. He gradually became pretty much covered with an unbelievable rash that looked more like lizard skin than human skin. I can’t tell you how much medicine and cream I bought over those months, until his doctor finally said the only thing left to try would be high-tech staph antibiotic pills and cream. We got that and finally something worked. He was having itch-free nights and days for the first time in months.

Just as background, he was allergic to a lot of things. For such a big, strong-looking man, he actually was one of the most fragile people I ever met.

All those things take their toll, but still, you do what you have to do and day-to-day life goes on. However, I had become completely unable to write anything. People kept telling me I was stressed, but I didn’t see that since I was in the middle of it. I stopped writing emails on my groups, and eventually found myself deleting all of them. I was in that state where “none of this matters so why bother”. You get like that. You can’t help it, and you can’t see it. All you see is that suddenly the full life you did have is somewhere else, you know it is, you see life going on without you, but you can’t quite grab it back.

That’s called depression. My doctor put me on an antidepressant, lightest dose, when I burst out in tears for no reason at her office and then told her what was going on at home. When I started taking it, that’s when I stopped writing my blog. There was just nothing there, nothing in my life that I thought would interest anyone, and certainly not enough fun or humor inside me that gives Hotclue her steam and wackiness. I couldn’t find her anywhere.

On June 3, Stan was having one of his bad days where he could barely function, but he had an appointment with his retina specialist. (Did I mention he also had wet macular degeneration and had to have periodic shots in his eyeball to prevent him going blind?)

It was pouring down rain, coming at us in huge sluices as we hobbled toward the car. We couldn’t hurry because I had to say, “Right foot now”, then “left foot now”. We were soaked going into the doctors office, soaked getting back in the car, soaked getting from the car and back inside the house.

Once inside, I sat him down at our dining room table and said, “Stay right here, I’m going to go change my shirt and bring you a dry one.” Two minutes later I came back into the dining room and not only was his chair on the other side of the room, Stan was hurtling toward the wall. Before I could reach him, he had splintered his hip into three pieces and the last twenty-five days of his life had begun.

There’s something not generally known, although I was told this both by his doctor and the Hospice people (God bless them!). When a person with advanced dementia breaks his hip, they never live past a year. Most die much sooner. That’s because they cannot re-learn how to walk. In his case, he wouldn’t have remembered anything taught him in any kind of therapy longer than five minutes, if that long, and you have to be able to walk to recover from a broken hip.

So, two hospitals and one short three-day stay in a rehab center later, we brought him home to die, probably one of the most excruciating times any family ever has to face. His kidneys had ceased to function, his body was shutting down, and there was no hope he could recover because the death process had already begun.

I have to say, my daughters, including his daughter, were wonderful, as was Hospice. All four daughters came to stay and help, and they did. Hospice provided everything we needed to keep him comfortable, and somehow, we got through that week. Stan died in his sleep late the following Saturday afternoon, June 28th, 2008.

I can’t blame Hotclue for not being here. I had completely buried her, but little by little, I can see she’s still with me and I’m letting her out to play from time to time, testing both of our wings.

So now, I’m learning how to be a widow. Widow 101, I call this class. No homework needed, pay as you go.

How do you begin? How do you suddenly realize, when someone asks you to go somewhere, that you can go, without worrying about the other person at home who needs you? How do you start learning how to cook for one? I haven’t gotten there yet, and considering how long it took me to learn to cook for just two after my kids were grown and gone, I may still be eating TV dinners a year from now. So far I’m not sick of them yet, and in fact, I’m eating a lot better because I’m not the one who was allergic to (you name it). I’m eating fish and chicken and green vegetables and fruit, and as a side effect, I’m losing weight, a bonus, if there is such a thing.

Yes, I’m pulling out of it. Once in a while I email someone I haven’t emailed in a long time. I’m catching up with a lot of favorite group emails. DorothyL, I haven’t read them in months. Now I am, and any day now I’ll start responding again. I have a new hairdo and I’ll put up a photo soon so y’all can vote on it. Shoulder length, ends curl under naturally, no hairspray needed, 1940’s pageboy cut with a 2008 twist. Still blonde, of course; I’m not giving THAT up no matter how many bottles of Clairol #27G it takes. Am I lonely? I can’t honestly say I am. I got over loneliness a long time ago, when I realized Stan didn’t recognize my youngest daughter, whom he had helped raise from the time she was about 8.

So, I’m back, and soon Hotclue will burst through in all of her weird, goofy glory, and all will be right with my world again. I hope you’ll join me here. There’s a lot of life to be lived for all of us, and my feeling is, we should try to enjoy every second we have on this earth, because you only get one time around.

…Although, if you do get more than one life, next time around I’m coming back as a Broadway Star like Liza Minelli. That’ll be a start. I always wanted to sing off-key and dance with half a tux and a top hat.

Love y’all, and I have missed you very much. I hope you’ve forgiven my absence.
Beth Anderson
(And Hotclue says “Hey!”)

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