Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Starting to Adjust


I didn't want to. I resisted for quite some time. It seemed that if I did adjust to my loss, I would lose him all the more: as though the acuteness of the loss kept him present. But of course, what I was keeping present was the loss itself.

Despite me, time has gone on; the stages of grief have unfolded. I have formed new habits and routines, which I am getting used to — not to mention making deliberate, practical changes to my home, so that it works for my present circumstances. And then, some things I still do the same way as ever, because there's no reason not to. They worked then and they work now. At first that very familiarity was agonising; now it is becoming a comfort. The cats, too, are settling into this somewhat familiar and somewhat altered way of being. 

Levi became very stressed when I transformed Andrew's old office into a comfortable spare room / sitting room, with almost entirely different furniture. He used to spend a lot of time in there, keeping Andrew company. After Andrew's death, he would go and look for him in that room. When I started making the big changes, to my horror he began pulling out his own claws. I didn't at first make the connection, but tests by the vet revealed no physical cause so it had to be emotional. It wasn't hard to identify what recent drastic change there had been to his environment. The vet suggested Rescue Remedy, and I'm thankful that Levi calmed down and stopped de-clawing himself. Now both cats have laid claim to the new space, liking to stretch out there in the afternoon sun. (Meanwhile, I got stuck into the Rescue Remedy too.)

As I have mentioned before, the stages of grief are not linear. It can be one step forward, two steps back. I had a very bad time around the six months mark, and was greatly helped by a wonderful spiritual healing which a new acquaintance was moved to offer me. Then I went through another bad bit at eight months, with a lot of private crying. I can have days of feeling quite happy and engaged with life, only to sob bitterly at night. I enjoy many things about my life — the same things I always enjoyed — then I feel bereft all over again because he is not there to share them with. No-one else but each other was so interested in all our important trivia.

So I have had to learn to actively pretend he is here, listening — to talk to him about my stuff anyway, either in my head or aloud. Yes, I am turning into one of those crazy old ducks who talks to herself all day long. Sometimes it is indeed me I'm talking to, rather than the him in my head, as another thing I decided was to be my own companion and confidante. Aren't we all being that to ourselves all the time, really? I've just made it more conscious. 

My life is working pretty well. I don't get enough sleep, but then I never did; always too inclined to burn the midnight oil. I am starting to institute naps, which might help. I don't get enough exercise, but then I never did much of that either. But I'm doing some, and rather more than I used to. I'm eating healthy; I'm balancing my budget, if sometimes only just; and I have a nice ratio of solitude to socialising — one that suits me, anyway. I'm seeing new shows, reading new books, writing new poems, looking after the cats, and keeping my home reasonably neat and clean. I even weed and water the garden now and then, which didn't happen a lot when I was busy looking after Andrew. I take my photos, do my shopping, make decisions, even buy furniture. I am good at manifesting what I need. I think of something I want, such as a new coffee table, and it turns up almost immediately at the Palliative Care opp shop for $5, or free in a roadside hard rubbish collection — yes, in good condition too. I am blessed.

The fact that I live alone (my oft-reiterated reminder to myself: 'There's only me') has its up side. I'll put something away in a place that might confuse someone else — because, for instance, it's too big to fit where one might logically expect to find it — and I catch myself thinking of how to explain this. Then I realise: 'There's only me.' I don't have to explain it to anyone else. I can do whatever I like within my own home. What pleases me, for whatever reason, is the only criterion.

There were times, at first, when being able to keep the place looking as beautiful and orderly as I'd always dreamed of felt hollow without him here to enjoy it too. Gradually I gave myself permission to enjoy it alone. What's the sense of doing these things if I then take no pleasure in them?

I'm inclined to be even more sedentary than I was, because I'm not having to keep jumping up to attend to him. On the other hand, I'm freer to get up and do some exercising now that I'm not constantly on call. 

I find that, now the cooler weather is here, I'm glad to have the bed to myself. We never wanted it the same temperature, and it was always a bit of a juggling match trying to get the right amount of blankets each side — this one with an extra rug that didn't stretch over, that one with a blanket folded back double....  At the same time, I'm glad we always did share a bed, right up to his last night home.

The various things about which I thought, 'If only,' I've come to realise could not have been any other way. If only I'd taken him out of the first nursing home, the one he hated, sooner. Then I remember that his legs weren't strong enough before that; they gradually recovered strength while he was there. If only I hadn't put him into that home at all. But hang on — we thought at the time it was going to have to be permanent. The other nursing home didn't have a permanent bed just then. 

If only I had left him in nursing home 2, the one he did like, instead of bringing him home. They said he was showing signs of illness. I could have left him in longer on temporary respite, or had him made permanent. But he wanted to come home, and was so happy here for that last six days (which we both thought would be much longer). What if I had left him there? He might have ended up in hospital anyway and declined just the same, and we wouldn't have had those precious days together. Or they might have maintained him in better health — but the decline was going to happen anyway, there's no doubt about that. He might have lingered for months, getting worse and worse, and me tied to visiting daily and watching it happen. What distress for him and for me! No, the timing was right for both of us, and the way it all happened as it did. I can see, when I stop to look, that it played out perfectly, even though that was by no means clear at the time.

I believe he had a premonition, though not exactly consciously. That last day he was home, he wanted to go up to the end of the street and see our mate Joseph. But Joseph wasn't home. He also mentioned that there was a woman he'd talked to in one of the other houses. He had mentioned in the past having introduced himself, but I could never work out which house he meant, and with his Alzheimer's he was unable to show me. On that last day, he wanted to talk to her, but I still couldn't ascertain which house he meant. Months later, when I needed to borrow a phone handset to test my connection, I knocked on several doors trying to find a phone with the right plug. One door was opened by a young woman who said, when I introduced myself, 'Oh, are you Andrew's wife?' Then I had to tell her he was dead, and tears came to her eyes. 'He was a lovely man,' she said, and I realised I'd found the one he'd spoken with. I still need to go back some day and tell her that he was looking for her to say goodbye — as I believe he was, subconsciously. 

That and various other little things make me believe in hindsight that his soul knew, and that it was indeed right timing. The anguish I felt about his final weeks and months turns out to be somewhat misplaced. It was all as good as it could be under the circumstances. It all worked out for the best, even though that was hard to see when it was happening.

And so I am adjusting. This living alone caper isn't so bad really. It's not as if I've ever been the great extrovert. So I watch my TV shows and laugh out loud, and make comments to myself that once I'd have made to him — and I realise that I was always enjoying them inside my own head, as he was inside his, sitting next to me. I still have my own mind; there's no need to stop enjoying.

It's nice not to be run off my feet nursing him. It's nice not to be panicky at night about his increasing confusion and agitation; not to have the responsibility of trying to contain that. It's very nice to start remembering him more as he was in earlier years, when his body and mind still served him well. 

It is when something triggers a memory from those final months that I howl. It was such horror, to see my beloved deteriorating before my eyes — a horror I was unable to confront squarely at the time. I needed to stay in the positive as much as I could, for both our sakes. Yet those last months also included some of our closest, most loving moments. So recent, so traumatic, so emotional — that period has loomed large. But I must have processed it almost to completion, as I am now starting to live more in earlier memories, ranging over our whole time together. 

It's been several days since I got the sobs. I know enough by now to expect they'll be back, but I also know I can survive them and go on.

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