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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  1. Oh, Beth, I have been there, and I’ll bet other of your readers have, too. Thank you for sharing.

    You know what — I think HotClue peeked around the corner before you signed off. When I read “I always wanted to sing off-key and dance with half a tux and a top hat” I laughed out loud. Welcome back!

    Pat Browning

  2. She did, didn’t she, that little devil. I felt her pushing out, trying to make me giggle again. It almost worked, too. Glad it did for you.

    I forgot to say, in my blog today, that I have weaned myself from the antidepressants over a three week period, starting the day after Stan passed away, and we’re feeling more like ourselves, both myself and Hotclue, than we have in a long, long time.

    Thank you, Pat. I know you know how all this feels. Any lessons on Widowhood 101 gladly accepted.

    Love, Beth and Hotclue

  3. Beth

    I have seldom been so moved by one person’s story about herself – you write artfully and clearly and with soul and heart and feelings. I am so glad Pat invited me to check out your blog.

    Personally, “been there and done that” last September – all too many similarities, though my late wife decided to check out. She’d been suffering from depression and a variety of allergies (and macular degeneration) for years (including an apparent inability to go out of the house for almost any reason) – but that little bit of added problem each day was too subtle to catch. I didn’t see it coming (nor did her therapist), but in retrospect I probably should have. But I don’t have a degree in dysfunctional psychology (I don’t even know what it’s called), and I missed the signs.

    So all of a sudden, I was experiencing Widow 101 – many of the same things you have experienced. I was the caregiver as well as the breadwinner, and had to get used to doing things for one – for myself – without having to ask or have fights about not asking. Same things you’re experiencing.

    But I have also had some different experiences.

    She left without a note, leaving behind a bullet hole in the heart and a stain on the carpet (and on my soul) and – thanks to her sister – suspicion from the police that it hadn’t been a suicide (until the medical examiner found evidence of no less than 37 previous attempts I knew nothing about).

    She also left me not in mourning but angry – my counselor told me I’d been grieving for ten years (since the death of our son, which in effect killed our marriage and ultimately was the cause of her death – just two weeks before the anniversary of his death). I’m glad that you have escaped that anger (which brings on guilt that isn’t impossible to shake, but it takes effort).

    Of course, I had to move out of that house – how could I live there with the constant reminders … “fortunately,” we owned two houses (one for sale in Las Vegas and the one we occupied in Southern Utah) – so I quickly moved back to Vegas (which is as anonymous as Ivins, Utah, is an “everybody knows” town). But after too long a hiatus, I’m back to writing, I’m rediscovering what living is all about – and I’ve been able to reconnect with my family (my late wife’s obsessive need for isolation kept me from connecting with my family – but my son’s nightly two-hour calls, every night for the first month after her death … he didn’t want me to take her way out … transformed that. An unexpected blessing.

    Beth – you’ll find you’re creating new relationships – some with people you’ve known for years (those relationships will change – many if not most for the better), and some with people you’ve yet to meet.

    I wish you blessings and all the best good fortune with your new experiences with Widowhood and with the new life – it will be different; some differences better, some painful, but all there to be embraced and learned from.

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful insights. They touched me and moved me.


  4. Beth, thank you so much for sharing your story. It is beautiful. I am going to link to it from my blog and from Twitter. I think a lot of people who have recently lost spouses will benefit from reading this.

    You are special.

  5. Oh, Ned, thank you for writing this. I knew about your son from reading your posts on AllAboutMurder, but of course none of us were aware of the personal tragedy you were still living.

    Your story reminds me of another much like it that I remember. A few years ago an author who was also a friend of mine committed suicide, and her husband was also suspected of murder because this author had brain cancer and had left a diary with many entries about her husband, none of which were true. I was appalled when I heard about that, because she had always been so in love with him, and those who knew him knew what a truly wonderful guy he was, and still is, I assume, having lost touch with him. But her death, and her disease took its toll with him, too, and he had a terrible time just living with the contents of that diary after she was gone.

    Life and fate play their tricks on us, and not all are good tricks. But if we’re strong enough, we survive and go on to hopefully do some good things with our lives. So I hope it is for you.

  6. And you are special too, Maryann. Thank you for passing my blog on, as Pat did. I hope it helps anyone else who may read it. And thank you for being so kind, as you always are.

  7. Oh my,Beth,I hope you’re healing. Because for years I ran a home for developmentally disabled women, I had experience with someone with Alzheimer’s. One of my gals who lived with us for years, started forgetting how to do things, and over several years finally could no longer walk, dress herself, or walk, and became incontinent. I loved her like one of my kids, but my license wouldn’t let me keep her. She went to a nursing home, then to a wonderful small (6 bed) nursing facility where she lived until she passed away.

    So much worse when it’s your spouse. Getting older is hard.

    Sounds like the old Beth is showing up again. You’ll be building a different life I suspect.


  8. Well, it’s already different, but there’s both good and bad. Right now, with the help of friends, some of whom I’ve never met, the good is outweighing the bad. My glass is half full. I suspect I’ll be filling it a little at a time, no major changes expected at this time. The major thing is, the pressure is gone except for little things here and there. So of course I’m going to add to the pressure and see about selling my new book. Am I a glutton for punishment or what. ‘-)

    Thanks for dropping by. Please come back soon.







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