As the Parkinson’s took away Mary Ann’s ability to do so many things, she needed my help and that of the Volunteers to do fulfill the basic human needs. The doors had to be widened for walker and wheelchair (thanks to the KC Crew of friends). The carpet was replaced with something firm enough to allow the walker and the wheelchair to roll. We got adjustable beds to help with movement. The bathroom was remodeled to provide a roll-in shower. Grab bars were added to the bathrooms, tall toilet stools installed. There was a shower chair and then a bedside commode as time went by. A portable ramp was purchased for use when needed. A rolling Hoyer Lift was purchased for times I might not be able to get her up off the floor.
We purchased special dinner plates for those with limited dexterity, then had ceramic ones made by a local potter. We were given a set of large handled silverware, easier to grab hold of. Bath Aide Zandra was engaged to come and give her showers twice a week. Debbie from Home Instead came early Sunday morning for the last few years I was still working.
Volunteers by the dozens (she called them her Angels) came many hours a week to help her with her personal needs, as well as keep her company. I helped her turn in bed and go to the bathroom or use the bedside commode multiple time a night for many years. I or the Volunteers helped her get dressed, move around the house. I fed her sometimes at first and later all the time. One way or another, I obtained or prepared food for her, sometimes Volunteers provided it.
Mary Ann needed my help and the help of the Volunteers. She was never needy. To put it bluntly, she needed my help, but never needed me. That sounds like it could be a bad thing. It was not. She loved me; she chose to marry me, I cannot be anything but honored by that. She did not need me. She was always a complete person without needing anyone else to complete her. Given the pain I have felt at her loss, I suspect I was the more needy one. When I think about it, sometimes when I caught sight of the fact that she didn’t need me, I wondered if she actually loved me as much as I loved her. It was not that she didn’t love me completely, it was that although she loved me, she didn’t need me.
Realizing that was sometimes a little scary. How could I count on someone who didn’t need me to actually love me? I would be so much more secure if I had some leverage. If I had something of value that she needed so that she would have to love me, then I could be sure never to lose her. That thinking is almost like feeling as if I needed to hold her hostage, to have some control on her to make sure she stayed. How could someone just love me, choose me? I grew up with the same lack of self-confidence that often comes especially with adolescence.
I did not actually live in fear that she would leave. We had chosen one another and made a public declaration that we had done so. We promised faithfulness to one another. We kept our promise. It is nothing out of the ordinary. At the Hospice Grief Support Group meetings, around the table are folks, some of whom were married for sixty or more years. The Kansas City crew of friends have all been married way over forty years. Many of the people to whom I have served over the forty years of ministry have been married for multiple decades. One couple made over 75 years of marriage. Since Mary Ann died after we were married for 44.5 years, I have been married the shortest time in our family of five siblings. Our parents were married 59 years before Dad died.
She wasn’t needy. She didn’t need me to make her whole. She loved me, chose me and committed her life to me as I did mine to her. Yes, she came to need my help, but she was never needy. It was an honor that she chose me and loved me. It was an honor that she allowed me to help her. I could not have asked for a more privileged life with her. I am so sorry that she had to suffer so many indignities and infirmities. That is the source of my pain and sadness. She never lost her strength of character — and she was a character!
It has been exactly four months to the day today. That dawned on me when I signed in at the Support Group this afternoon and saw that the person who signed in before me had written today’s date. I no longer have the privilege of caring for her, but my loss is her gain. She is whole again, no longer in need of my help. She is completely immersed in the unconditional love of the One who gave, who gives her life – now free to live that life without the limits of the Parkinson’s.