What Mary Ann left behind in terms of physical matter is nothing without her.  Today”s Committal service was another simple reminder that she is not here any longer in terms of having a living physical presence.  It seems as if from the very moment she left, my gut already found acceptance that her departure is a fact.  We were privileged and pained to share those last moments with her when finally release came. That was convincing enough.

There is nothing that can be said that can communicate the sadness I feel.  My sadness is no more or less than anyone else’s who feels sadness.  Comparing one person’s to another is of no value.  My sadness is mine.  Lisa’s is hers.  Micah’s is his.  Denis, Becky, the girls’ feelings are theirs.  All I can say is there is a depth to this sadness that is beyond anything I would wish on anyone.  Those of you who have lost someone you love are likely to have a sense of the nature of that sadness.

Again, I will be all right.  In fact, I am all right in that I am experiencing exactly what is needed at this moment to allow survival.  If I tried to stuff the feelings, it would hurt rather than help.  I have a right to these feelings.  How can there be love if there is no possibility of sadness or pain on account of it.

Niece Diana and Al left this afternoon to return to Northern Illinois, where she, my Sister Gayle, and Joy, one of Mary Ann’s three best friends, will plan a gathering for a bit of worship, some remembering and some food, probably some time in July.

Shortly thereafter, Son Micah and Becky along with Granddaughter Chloe returned to their home in the Kansas City area.  Unfortunately, the Jeep they were driving all but broke down with noises threatening to call the trip to a halt at any moment.  Transmission issues are suspected.  Micah was planning to come back tomorrow with the truck to remove the larger pieces of equipment we used to battle the consequences of the Parkinson’s.  Add to that the problem created by water from the last storm invading their basement.  Becky had made a quick trip back to do some cleanup, but time and hot weather has given the mold a chance to really make its presence known.  Adding insult to injury is not even adequate to describe what they are going through.

Sunday afternoon, Son-in-Law Denis will leave for a work-related trip.  The Kids are consciously being measured in the process of leaving me here by myself.  I have a list of things for Denis and Lisa to do in the next day or two.  Assuming transportation issues work themselves out, Micah will be back also for a while.  It will help to get things in order here.  Lisa and Becky have been going through the clothes.  They pulled out Mary Ann’s favorite T-shirts to make throws out of them for the girls.  We will get Mary Ann’s clothes to appropriate places where others can benefit from them.

When I talk about things like that, the words sound very matter-of-fact.  Behind them are all the emotions you might guess would be felt as her things leave the house. I recognize that I can’t keep her.  That is settled.  Dipping my toe into the cold water of being without her a little bit at a time would only multiply the pain and extend it endlessly.

What I want to do now is remember.  Watching the online Tribute Video prepared by the funeral home (penwellgabeltopeka.com) is a very moving experience for me.  When I see Mary Ann sitting on the fender of the 1958 Chevy Impala, she takes my breath away.  I remember hardly being able to believe that she was going out with me.  I see the smile in those pictures that was rarely seen in her last years.  I want to remember the laughter and silliness, the arguments, the great times and the times staying married was very hard work. Forty-four years of marriage does not happen by accident.  Storybook romances are for storybooks and movies and popular songs.  I was crazy in love with her, but we irritated the hell out of each other at times.  The promises we made to one another in front of that Altar were absolutely serious.  They meant something.  Keeping our promises to one another emerged from our love and gave it nourishment so that it could grow.

As soon as the Kids have done what they need to do to help themselves and me take some steps forward in the transition, I will have time to do some grieving that I need to do by myself.

Last night did not include the sleep I had hoped it would since the very unpleasant esophageal spasms decided to spend the night and morning with me.  That problem emerges periodically and without warning or explanation as to why it comes at any particular moment in time.  After that was done, the day went well, given it is the day that we laid to rest the remains of my beloved wife.

After the committal, Son Micah treated us to a meal at Olive Garden.  John and Cynthia brought over a hot pot roast, potatoes and carrots along with side dishes and dessert for supper.  What a treat that was.  We are really getting spoiled in that regard.  Legendary cookie maker Lori left on our front steps two large containers of chocolate chip cookies, one batch without nuts for the kids.  Linda came by with a box of ice cream bars for the little ones (and the big ones) along with bags of homemade very good tasting chocolate chip cookies (we checked) in containers ready for the freezer.

Even receiving gifts of great food and wonderful desserts, have I told you yet how much I don’t like this?

I have been thinking more about whether or not to continue writing posts.  I don’t know yet for sure what I will do, but I think the need to write, if only to maintain my own equilibrium, will continue.  I have ceased to be a caregiver.  Other than reflecting on the years with Mary Ann, which I will continue to do for a time, I am thinking of starting a blog with a new address, still on WordPress if possible.  I am looking for a new address or url. Since I am starting a new life pretty much from scratch, any suggestions for a name to replace “thecaregivercalling.com would be welcomed.

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I had my own little package of Kleenexes in my pocket; there were plenty around the room.  We didn’t need them.  They had done a nice job of fixing her up, but her face did not really look like her.  I was pleased.  We had all been there when she left, so the private viewing at the funeral home only confirmed that she was already gone.

We are not done with the tears — by no means is that part of this over.  The tears will come tomorrow when we gather to confront the impact of her loss and at the same time celebrate what in our Spiritual Tradition (Christian of the Lutheran variety) we believe to be a victory.  We understand death to be a real and painful loss for us and a profound victory over death.  The Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s Dementia have done their worst and lost the war.  We still have to work through all the grief that comes with such a loss, just not complicated by a sense of defeat and concern for the one who has died. My mantra has been, “She is fine. We are not.”

This afternoon, there was a time when all the rest of the family was away from the house when I walked in.  As far as I know, except for two or three times when I stopped by to pick something up while she was at her Tuesday Morning Bible Study, that is the first time in the last two years I have walked into the house without Mary Ann being here.  Actually, in the last eight or ten years, I don’t remember that happening for more than a moment to pick up something at the house while she was with someone else in another place. It struck me pretty powerfully.  It was not long before some of the family returned, but it was long enough to determine that I don’t like it.  Have I mentioned before that I don’t like this?

There is nothing anyone else can do about it.  The last thing I want is for people to try to insulate me from the reality of what is going on.  I need to experience it and get used to it.  Any who read this who happen to have lost someone and returned home to live in an empty house understand full well that we have to learn how to accept and come to terms with that new reality.

Tonight we spent over two hours greeting people who came by the funeral home to show their support for our family.  It was pretty much hugs all around.  There were many words of comfort.  There were many who offered to help in any way they could, inviting me to call or come by, threatening to pester me with their care.  They actually meant it.  I know these people.  They meant it.   For a while, I will need to hang back and get my bearings, but it is nice to know that to the degree I am willing to be assertive, I will not need to stay home alone unless I want to.  I like solitude, but I will need to find a balance between solitude and community to remain healthy.

I now know why when talking with people who have lost a spouse sometimes they get a catch in their throat when they talk about the last moments of their Loved One’s life if they were there — even if the death came years earlier.  Images of those last moments elicit great pangs of pain.  I doubt that the capacity to feel those pangs will leave very soon if ever.  I cherish those moments only to confirm for me that it is good that she let go, that she is no longer enduring the indignity of those last hours.  It frees me not to fight the acceptance, somehow wishing her back here.

We are all very tired now. It is time to try to get some rest.  I slept better last night — a very good thing.  Tomorrow will be a day to begin the healing in earnest.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

I have tried to write about our experience honestly.  To do so has required my revealing the harsh realities of painfully ordinary people.  I could try to create the illusion that we are a saintly household above all the weaknesses and failures and missteps that plague regular folks.  I could try, but this blog is not fiction.  It is too much work to make up stuff and keep it all straight.

I got up this morning after a night of watching her, feeling for her pulse, putting my hand on her chest to be sure she is breathing, getting up and putting my ear next to her mouth to be sure I could hear the breath going in and out.  I was tired and grumpy and angry.  Why does she have to be so stubborn?  Why can’t she just let go?  What a jerk I am to be angry at someone who has suffered so for so long and is now in the throes of dying!  I just can’t stand seeing her weak and vulnerable and in pain.  She would hate it!  She is a proud and strong-willed person, not about to be found to be weak.  I am not angry at her.  I am scared and sad and in pain with absolutely no one to blame.

I suppose I could waste a lot of time and energy being angry at God, but pain and suffering are not God’s idea.  God often gets the blame for the bad stuff (usually perpetrated by people doing the opposite of what He has asked us to do).  God more rarely gets credit for bothering to give us the breath of life and everything we just assume is our right, belongs to us.  I can’t waste my limited stamina being angry with the only One who can actually help both Mary Ann and me as we pass through this transition in our lives.

I wish I could cry, but I think the tears are waiting until this is over.  Every day seems like an entire lifetime.  This morning I was grumpy and angry.  I went to the computer to find that one of the other two in our online Lewy Body Dementia Spouses group at the same stage we are in lost her husband finally this morning.  Here is what I wrote to her:

Doris,
My thoughts are with you.  We are still in that time that has extended beyond the fear of the end to a longing for it to be over.  Rest now from your and Philip’s winding, uphill, exhausting and exciting journey to this point.  I wish you well as you take the best of what Philip has brought into your life, discover who you will become now that he is not with you here, and find joy and fulfillment when finally the pain finds a quiet place to remain as your own adventure continues.
Peter

Somehow reflecting on her loss, helped me regain a bit of perspective.  My anger and grumpiness are just a function of feeling utterly helpless, struggling to accept something I don’t want to accept, already missing horribly someone who has been in the center of my life for decades.  Yes, we could irritate the Hell out of each other sometimes, but that is precisely because we matter so much to each other.

The lifetime lived today included treating sores (none open yet), inserting Tylenol suppositories, cleaning and turning bones stretched with bruised skin over them, administering Morphine before the three times of turning to lessen the pain revealed by her grimacing as we worked on her.

The lifetime lived today included good friend and former co-worker Jim and Joanna, hugs and conversation and prayer.  A full, hot meal appeared at the door, delivered by Shari, member of our little Spiritual Formation group that meets for a couple of hours weekly.  Good Buddy Jimmy came by bearing a gift and concern for us.

Today’s lifetime included moments with Granddaughter Chloe, lots of words and acts of support for one another between Daughter Lisa, Son Micah, Daughter-in-Law Becky.  Today included the return of Son-in-Law Denis and Granddaughters, Abigail (who now wants to be called Abby) and Ashlyn, both full of energy and grateful to be in Mom’s arms again after being gone so long.

In today’s lifetime our downstairs bedroom and family room have become a campground.  It is very good that our small town home has three full bathrooms now that we have finished the downstairs and many people in it.

During this lifetime, the one lived today, fatigue has been a constant presence.  The consensus was that it would be good for me to go into the bedroom with Mary Ann, shut the door and just rest. Grumpy Grandpa is not their favorite family member.  I did so at least three times in this lifetime, today.  It helped.  Nothing can remove the tired with which I woke up, but it helped.

Lifetimes include sunshine and storms.  Today began with rumbling thunder, and moments ago the power went off for a moment, turning off the computer and the oxygen machine.  Needless to say, both are working again.

This day’s lifetime will now continue into the night.  At least intellectually, I have determined that it is not necessary for us to be awake and with Mary Ann at the moment of her death.  We love her and she knows it.  We have cared for her and doted on her for days.  Micah asked Lisa how long she has been here.  It has been eleven days that this watch has been going on.  It actually started two days earlier. We would love to have the privilege of surrounding her at that moment.  It is, however, not necessary for me to try to stay awake all night checking her breathing.  While I know that intellectually, we will see if knowing that has even a shred of influence on my insides and my actions.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

I called the Hospice Nurse when I saw Mary Ann shivering at bedtime last night.  She suggested I take her temperature, and if it was over 100 degrees, she told me to give her some Tylenol (rectally, since she can’t take oral meds any more).  Her temperature was below that.  I covered her to help with the chills and eventually they subsided.

When I got up this morning, the first thing I did was take her temperature.  When taken under the arm it is necessary to add a degree to get the actual internal temperature.  It measured 102.8 plus the added degree, 103.8.  I gave her the Tylenol and phoned the Hospice Nurse.

When Hospice Nurse Emily came over, she checked Mary Ann’s vital signs.  The fever was a little lower than earlier this morning, but not much.  Mary Ann’s blood pressure was fine, her oxygen level was fine (she is receiving oxygen), her lungs were clear, her heart rate was up some.

Nurse Emily said that her heart is beginning to work harder.  The fever is often a part of the process.  Mary Ann clearly has begun actively dying.  Emily said it this way, “Probably not today, but I could be wrong.”  She added later in the day that she expects Mary Ann to be gone by Friday based on her assessment of her condition.

Those words were very difficult to hear.  Lisa, Micah and I keep telling each other how much we just don’t like this.  It is, of course, a good thing for Mary Ann to move to the next leg of her journey, free of all the problems she has endured here.  With that said, we still don’t like it.

The good news is that Mary Ann continues to appear very comfortable.  The fever has edged down a bit.  Mary Ann is not particularly pleased when we jostle her around and poke things in her bottom, but that is just part of it.  Other than those times, she rests peacefully.  Her breathing is not labored.  Her heart rate continues to increase.  Her normal is about 60.  When Emily checked it this morning it had risen a little over 80.  The last time I took her pulse this evening it was about 100.

We have spent the day talking about the funeral, whom to call, what to do back in Northern Illinois where we both grew up and still have family and friends.  The words come out of my mouth as if we are just making funeral plans for someone.  My gut is doing flips while wearing cement overshoes.  (I have no idea what that means other than that it hurts like Hell.)

I have had to finally start thinking about the afterlife.  Hers will be great.  Mine, not so much.  I started making a list of things that I will need to do.  Discontinue Lifeline, let the Bath Aide know not to come — very many more things like that.  What will we do with Mary Ann’s clothes (I can hardly stand writing this) and when.

As I am writing this I am trying to move inches along the path of coming to terms with what is happening.  This morning, long time friend, John from KC, called and offered support.  Later today, Volunteer Coordinator Mary and Parish Nurse Margaret stopped by, brought cookies and spent a little time with Mary Ann.  She, of course, does not respond at all any more, but it is very likely that she hears what is being said to her.

Son-in-Law Denis and the girls headed back to Kentucky.  Lisa has stayed for a few more days, depending, of course, on what happens when.  Micah, Becky and Chloe spent the afternoon and evening here.

We are in a time warp.  There is no sense of what this day is in relationship to other days.  Minutes seem like hours.  Days seem like an eternity — but not long enough to be with Mary Ann.  Sometimes we wander around the house.  Sometimes we eat.  Sometimes we talk.  Sometimes we sit.

We now have all the elements of the Comfort Kit that Hospice talks about.  We have Morphine if there is respiratory distress or severe pain.  There is none so far, other than the heart pain that subsided with the oxygen and one tiny dose of the Morphine.  We have Tylenol tablets for the fever and will receive Tylenol suppositories tomorrow from Hospice.  We have Ativan tablets and will receive Ativan suppositories tomorrow.  Ativan will be used if and when the agitation hits that often comes and the dying process moves along.

I just glanced at the last few posts on this blog.  I can’t believe how fast things are moving.  There are some things that are helping us as we move through this time in all our lives.  I have probably said them before, but I just can’t remember at the moment.  One thing that helps is that there is not so much as a hint of wondering about Mary Ann’s secure connection to a wonderful future.  We don’t have the tools to form a picture of it, but we have no need to do so.  Our faith life as a family allows us to relax and accept the gift of a future given freely by a Loving God.  There is no time that we need to spend with any distress about her future.

We have a strong family with no baggage, no unfinished business to complicate the process of letting go.  We accept that we are not perfect.  I have not given Mary Ann perfect care, but there is a forgiving Lord who frees me from that guilt.  Mary Ann has an estranged Brother, whom I have promised to tell that she forgives him.  The result of all that is that we have the privilege of feeling the pain and sadness, celebrating her impending freedom, all with a peace that winds through our grief.  There will be tears, sometimes uncontrollable, but no despair. We don’t have to like it, but will will live through it, hopefully stronger than before, more compassionate, free to live meaningfully no matter what comes next.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

Now that Mary Ann is enrolled in a Hospice program, there is certainly a vivid awareness of death.  What exactly does that mean about what it is to be alive?  Is Mary Ann as alive as she was before she was enrolled in Hospice?  I will soon be 67 years old.  Statistically, I am closer to death than when I was 27.  Am I less alive now than I was then?

Marilyn, a Lead Staff member at the church I served as Senior Pastor for a dozen or so years has asked me to consider doing a presentation some time on funeral preparation and things that are associated with the process of dealing with a death in the days after it happens.

After forty years in the ministry, I have been through death with numbers of people.  In my job, I simply could not avoid thinking about and talking about death.  I remember when working on my doctorate, for a class on ministering to the older population (of which I am now a proud member), interviewing my Mother, who was in her seventies at the time (sounds young to me now).  I asked what she thought about death.  She said it is just a part of life.  It had been for her, having lost her first two children, one as an infant and the next as at the age of five.  People lay in state at home in the early years (she was born in 1907).

On occasion, when I had a cluster of funerals very close to one another (happened surprisingly often), I would wonder if I ought to find something to do that did not involve being immersed regularly in peoples’ lives at a time of such loss. I am convinced that the truth of the matter is unless and until we come to terms with death, with ours and others’ mortality, we can’t really live life to the full.

Fear of death seems to me to steal the joy from life.  Fear of dying is another thing entirely.  That fear is pretty rational.  None of us longs to have a long protracted process of dying.  Death is just the period at the end of the sentence that is the story of a person’s life.  Every day we are writing that story.  Accepting the reality of death frees us to give our full attention to the story we are writing each day, from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep.

Making plans for the time when we die is just a normal task each of us needs to do, assuming we care at all about those who will be left behind. There is a peace and freedom that comes when all that is in order.  Today, Hospice Nurse Emily mentioned that her very healthy 87 year old Grandpa asked the Grandkids to go around his place and put their names on things for the time when he was gone.  At first the kids were reluctant, but he insisted.  For him it was comforting to know where his things would go.

The process of funeral preparation can be very life affirming.  While I do not recommend writing your own obituary with the expectation that it is the one that will be published, the exercise itself can be life changing.  Who do you want to have been when the period at the end of the sentence comes?  How do you want the story of your life to read?  Once you have gone through that exercise, it is time to actually do something to make that story a reality.

Mary Ann and I are no more or less alive than we were a month ago, a year ago, a decade ago, a half century ago.  Hospice or not, we are both alive.  There are limits on what we can do now as we continue to write the story of our lives, but there are limits of one sort or another on everyone.  The limits are not so confining as they are simply the setting for the story.  We write the story of our lives using the resources we have, not resources we used to have or wish we had, but the resources we have, thereby avoiding wasting time lamenting that we don’t have.

Mary Ann had a reasonably good day today.  It started with some fainting, but we got through that.  There was more conversation about dreams that seemed real to her.  Later in the morning Hospice Aide Sonya came to do Mary Ann’s shower, etc.  After a pretty full lunch, Nurse Emily came.  Again, it is good to have someone to report to and lean on when trying to determine how Mary Ann is doing medically.   I am happy to report that Mary Ann has gained back a couple of pounds, now at 114.5.

Former parishioners came by for a visit.  Randy and his Mom Leota came by for a while.  She is also suffering from some form of dementia, so her memory is not good.  Her husband was an avid fisherman, whose catch she would sometimes cook for us and call us to come and pick it up.  I did the funerals for one of their adult children, and her husband, as well as a couple of his fishing buddies.

Mary Ann ate a decent amount for supper and is now trying to settle down for the night.  The snow is falling at a rapid rate.  The first day of Spring tomorrow may include as  much as a foot of snow.

Since I seem unable to keep my eyes open, I think I will bring this to a close and head to be.  Here is hoping for a sleep-filled night.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.