On 'losing' my spouse Print
Grand Mom
Thursday, Jun. 25, 2009 -- 12:00 AM
Grand Mom by Audrey Mettel Fixmer

I am losing my husband of 62 years. But I think that I am one of the lucky ones. Little by little he is slipping away into a dark place in his mind to what I hope will be a place of peace and light. I feel blessed to have that "Long Goodbye" that the Alzheimer studies talk about and the opportunity to learn to live alone.

There is so much irony in all of this. The man who made his living as a speaker and teacher, a national consultant to a textbook publisher, can now barely finish a sentence.

And I, who griped all those years that with 10 kids at home I could barely finish a thought, now have hours on end of time to think . . . and remember wistfully those glorious days of noise and confusion.

A changing life

I visit Bob every day at the Blackhawk Senior Residence just a mile from my home. Sometimes I go after daily Mass and join him in the dining room, where he is eating breakfast. I greet most of the residents and all of the caretakers by name. The latter respond with a cheerful greeting; the former less so.

Bob's brief smile tells me that he is happy to see me but he doesn't say much. He is focused on his scrambled eggs and bacon, as usual. The wonder is that with his healthy appetite he could lose 80 pounds over the last two years. Long gone are the suspenders to hold his pants up. Now I just keep buying smaller sizes.

Bob spends his days alone in his room with his books, his New Yorker, and his stereo. He was never a joiner, so attempts to have him participate in social groups were fruitless. In the afternoon I often found him asleep in his chair with an open book on his lap.

In the past month or two he is more often sleeping soundly in his bed, so I just settle into a chair and haul out my knitting. Often when he wakes up, he provides me with hints of another world he has occupied where I cannot go. I have learned not to intrude on that world with questions. If I do, he becomes very agitated and frustrated trying to explain without words.

Recognizing love

The first loss seemed to be with relationships. "When is that guy going to marry my daughter?" he asked irritably a couple of years ago. It was Christmas Eve, and the room was crowded with family. I started the old guessing game. (It's like playing Twenty Questions over and over.) I finally won with, "Oh, her! She's your granddaughter! And he is just an old friend."

These days he doesn't remember his children's names, although he recognizes and soaks in the love that they exude. On a couple of occasions, upon awakening, he looks at me as if I am a stranger. That's a little scary.

What he does remember are his prayers. A few days ago I had him home for a quiet dinner alone. Before starting the meal I suggested we pray. Of course, I had in mind the grace before meals. Instead he launched into the "Memorare," whole and complete. Didn't miss a word.

Blessings of family

Bob is surrounded in his room by spiritual and theological books that he no longer reads, but they seem to provide a comfort to him. The kids keep him well stocked with candy and sweets and photos of the grands and greatgrands.

Only two of our boys live far away now, but they return for visits every couple of months; the rest have all returned to their roots and provide me with comfort, aid, and lots of laughs. Five daughters, a couple of daughters-in-law, and sons-in-law in the area help with their dad's visits and oversee the care of our two special needs children.

This big family turned out to be the best old age insurance of all. I watch in amazement how those "boys" tenderly help their dad navigate with his walker or assist him in the bathroom, endlessly patient with his slow speech, and I ask myself, "Who are they? Are these the same guys that I feared would not survive their rocky teen years?"

This Sunday, Father's Day, all but one of our children will gather to celebrate their dad's life with a cookout at the Blackhawk in their beautiful courtyard. We will remember and thank God for the good times, and Bob will sit quietly in a wheelchair, relishing every bit of love from his family.

We are blessed!

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