Saturday, September 29, 2012

As Always, it's the Little Things

I used to tell him stuff. Not necessarily important stuff, though that too. But just anything and everything, and he was always interested. The weather forecast; when a favourite show would be on telly; what my son said in his last email; if I'd lost weight; who I bumped into in town; if one of the cats were off their food; the cockroach I saw in the kitchen; the new towels I bought for the bathroom ... the minutiae of everyday living.

I am doing much the same things as always, but without someone to share them with it feels a bit pointless.

What I don't do any more is the nursing — giving him insulin, and specific medications at specific times of day; hovering around as he showered and shaved; helping him dry and dress himself; taking his blood sugar twice a day; monitoring his diet; monitoring the effectiveness of his medications and checking for side effects; carting him to numerous GP visits, specialists' appointments, x-rays and scans, blood tests....  No wonder I have more time to look after me now!

It doesn't always work that way. Without his rigid medication schedule to stick to, I don't always remember the best times to take my own few supplements and things. But there's more room in the fridge without his insulin supplies and his Webster pack and the week-long pill container for his Warfarin dose. And because I am not so busy and not needing to be available to another person, I can take time after my shower to moisturise my body — with the excellent moisturiser I bought for his elderly skin. (That used to be my routine self-care but it lapsed entirely these last few years.) I can go out for a walk any old time, without needing someone to come and sit with him, and I can meditate without half an ear cocked in case he should need me.

There are various things I no longer have to consider. I needn't worry about making too much noise if he's resting. (Though I haven't yet broken the habit of using headphones to listen to things on my computer.) Often I find myself thinking, 'There's only me now' — reminding myself. This can be good or bad. I don't have to consider another person, but nor do I have anyone else around to think about me. (Not in the home, on a day-to-day basis, though my friends are very good.) 

It's the little things. There's no-one for whom it matters what I wear to bed; no-one to consult on which earrings look best with which outfit, or whether I can go another week without a haircut. No-one to talk to on that day-to-day basis about the wellbeing of the cats, or the state of Federal politics, or the condition of local roads. 

The hardest time, when I miss him most, is early evening. With two writers in the house, we spent large chunks of most days at our respective computers. Sometimes we shared an office (different rental homes over the years had different space available) but even then we were focused on our own projects most of the time. Then, around 5, we'd put them aside and come into the living room, turn on the telly, feed the cats and start preparing our own meal. We'd have a pre-dinner drink and snack, we'd chat and yarn, and after dinner, if there was no program we wanted to see, we'd read or watch a DVD.  

Even after he became old and ill, and rested for much of the day rather than using his computer, our evening routine was unchanged. It was our special togetherness time. Watching together our favourite shows was an important part of it. Sometimes we'd unplug the phone so as not to be disturbed. Not TV addicts as such, we were nevertheless devoted to a few mutual loves: MASH (in all its many repeats), As Time Goes By, Foyle's War, Doc Martin, New Tricks, Merlin, Robin Hood, Doctor Who, and various historical and current affairs programs. 

Shortly before his last illness, we had begun watching a re-run of As Time Goes By. We always felt sentimental about that show, because our own romance happened late in life. With stays in nursing home and hospital, he couldn't continue watching. I was all set to help him see the episodes online later, but that didn't happen. But of course, he had seen it all before. I'm still watching, as it winds to its conclusion once again — taking pleasure in our shared enjoyment, even now. The warm memory of our recent viewing takes me back to all the other warm memories of watching it, from its first airing through previous repeats. 

In other ways I'm often sorry that my most insistent memories of him are recent, of his increasing illness and all the care required. Then I remember that we only moved into this unit at the beginning of 2010, and he started going seriously downhill about six months later. So those are not only the most recent memories, but also the specific ones associated with this environment. No wonder they are uppermost!

When I look back, now that I am not too involved in the details to appreciate the bigger picture, I realise that the last year in particular was a difficult struggle for both of us. I don't know how we managed it, really. Yet it was also full of loving moments and small joys, which made it simultaneously one of our most precious years. Again, it was the little things — cuddles with the cats and with each other, the view of the mountains from our street, the enjoyment of our meals (he loved everything I made him), reading in bed, clean sheets, his hands stroking my hair....

'This is a nice house,' he said during his last week in it, 'And it's ours!' Maybe he was confused and thought we owned it; or maybe he was referring to our lifetime tenure, which has now reverted to me. He was full of delight in any case. He loved our latest car, and always praised my driving. He very much enjoyed our times with our friends. While I am remembering all the large and small frustrations and discomforts, it's good also to remember the joys.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Magickal Moment

I posted this at my SnakyPoet blog, then decided it needs to be here too. I can chronicle the whole experience.

I was feeling a bit down today — missing him. (I know he's around in spirit, but it ain't the same.)

Sorting through his stuff, I came across a note he'd written to himself, wondering  how to get me some $30 earrings for (last) Christmas. The money would not have been the problem so much as actually shopping for them without me knowing, when he could no longer drive and could barely even walk. Anyway, it didn't happen.

'You should have conspired with one of my girlfriends,' I told him in my head.

Coincidentally, I had recently decided I'd look better in stud earrings than the dangly ones I've worn for so long. I went hunting for some plain silver studs today, but ended up with zircons, a little under $30, and decided to regard them as a present from Andrew.

Later I was loading my shopping in the car when I heard someone call my name, and there was a lovely friend beaming at me. We don't bump into each other all that often, as she lives out of town. She gave me a wonderful hug. I admired the full-blown, pale pink roses she was carrying.

'Would you like them?' she said.

'Why?' I asked.'Aren't they for you?'

'Well,' she said, 'It's a funny thing. Someone just gave them to me and I've been wandering around, thinking, "Why have I got these? Who are they for?" Then I saw you.'

So I accepted with pleasure. I wonder if Andrew had a hand in it somehow. He liked to get me flowers. Even when he couldn't easily go shopping himself, if we were out together and he saw roses for sale, he would order me to go and buy myself a bunch.

Not that I mean to diminish my friend's generous impulse. She was in the middle of an assignment about citizenship. I told her I thought giving a bereaved friend roses was an example of good citizenship!

Here they are at home in a vase, viewed from above. (I sat them on the floor for the photo, to avoid distracting backgrounds).

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Strange Journey of Widowhood Begins

It feels weird, surreal. Well, it's only been 16 days since he died, 10 since his commemoration ceremony. Sometimes it feels as if he's still here, just resting in the bedroom as he did more and more in recent months. At other times I'm acutely aware that he's not here. At least not physically; sometimes I'm aware of his presence in other ways, but it's not the same. And that has good and bad aspects. I can still tell him stuff, but I can't hug him. I just have to be glad of the 20 years of hugs we did have. I am not accountable any more; I can please myself what I do when, what I eat, where I go ... only it is hard to get used to taking even the simplest pleasures alone, for instance not preparing a meal with his enjoyment in mind.

I can't believe it was all so quick in the end. 'Only a few weeks ago we were soaping each other in the shower!' I thought yesterday, as I turned on the taps. We didn't always shower together, but it's a big enough space that we could and quite often did. That last time, I think my ulterior motive was to keep an eye on him. With our non-slip floors and substantial railings, when he was at home he was always able to shower himself despite problems with his legs and his balance. He seldom even used the shower chair. He could still shave himself too, but sometimes needed a hand with drying and dressing himself. But he was frailer, that last week at home. Nevertheless, he managed just fine.

I didn't mind any of the nursing I did for him; I wanted to help as best I could. But I must say I don't miss it. I have a lot more time to accomplish other things. And now, when I look back, I realise how much I was doing in the way of practical care. His body was breaking down, inexorably. When I feel lonely and weepy, I only have to bring back the image of him shuffling about painfully with his wretched wheely walker, and I can't wish him back. 

Not that I thought his walker wretched until now. It was a godsend, a valuable tool, the only thing that enabled him to get around. At first he only needed it for long walks outside the  house; in the end he couldn't do without it anywhere ... until at the very end he could no longer walk at all. We went through a few different models, actually, to find the one that suited him best. I bought the first brand new, the rest second-hand from Palliative Care. I used to think that if he died before me, I'd keep the walker stashed away somewhere in case one day I should need it. Not at all — I couldn't wait to get rid of it. (I donated it back to Palliative Care.) Though I hate, now, to think of him shuffling along behind it, at the time I admired his guts and patience. As a friend said to me today, he kept going as long as he could, with great determination. As our doctor said, he was a fighter.

These last months were more and more difficult for us both. Yet there was also great sweetness and much love. As my poet friend Joyce Lee said to me of someone else, long ago, 'His soul was showing, like light through a crack.' When I remember those times of enduring, unconditional love, I am calmed. And then I want to weep all over again!

I see some things he has used, and feel not the least bit sentimental about throwing them out or giving them away.  'You don't have a body any more,' I tell him in my head. 'You don't need these.' Other things I feel revulsion for, angry with the poor, inanimate objects for the fact that he is no longer here to enjoy them. And others again I hug to me because he cherished them, or simply because they have felt his touch. 

It seems I can't talk of widowhood without talking of the marriage partner. In a way it is as if I am just in another phase of the marriage. And I haven't yet changed my relationship status on facebook. I still feel that we are husband and wife, and I rather expect I always will. However I shall change the status at some time — soonish — when I feel ready — so as to acknowledge the external fact.

It's lucky I have two cats dependent on me. They keep me grounded. It's time to go and feed them now. (They are getting extra cuddles these days, because they miss him ... and because I miss him.)

(Reposted from my SnakyPoet blog, after I decided this subject needed a blog of its own.)