Coming Into My Own
#98 And Out of the Fog
I feel as if I’m finally waking up from a 6-year fog. Caregiving, pandemic restrictions, Dan’s death, and being on my own took a toll. Recently, though, the fog is lifting - I wasn’t sure it would.
I lived with my parents for 19 years and then with Dan for 62 years. Somebody was always there to take care of me. When he died, I lost my rock, my confidant, and my playmate. Life looked scary to someone, who had never managed by herself.
Picking up the pieces was going to be one enormous challenge - but there we were. Sink or swim!
An article I read recently asked Can We Still Reinvent Ourselves? My answer was yes. I had to move from who I was - wife, partner, and housemate to who I am - a single woman on her own for the first time. My world had changed in every way - to survive, I had to reinvent myself.
My beliefs about my identity and my purpose changed overnight. We planned to age well together. How was I going to do that by myself - or did I want to?
Our habits were enmeshed. I was surprised to see how many changes occurred when Dan was gone. I stayed up later, fixed different meals, and visited new places. Other changes required significant effort and courage.
He wasn’t here to solve problems and make decisions with me. I was the sole decider. My son-in-law was correct. I can do more than I thought.
Managing my life left me with tough questions: Who am I? What do I want? What should I do?
Vitas Health Care provided hospice services during the last month of Dan’s life. I followed many of their tips for managing grief.
Allow Yourself to Grieve - you have lost a part of yourself.
I lost Dan in bits and pieces as the dementia progressed. Even though I watched his mental health decline, the most challenging part was his death - the irrefutable fact that he was gone. I feel incomplete every day, but life continues.
Find a Support System - Reach out to people who care about you and are willing to walk with you through your grief.
I am a psychologist and thought I could handle this by myself - wrong. Fortunately, I am blessed to have a solid support system: my family, a coach, and my sister-in-law, who also lost her husband. They are there for me - the good days and the not-so-good ones. No one suggests that I get over it or move on.
Feel a Mixture of Emotions - Don’t be overwhelmed if you suddenly experience periods of pain or grief that seem to come from nowhere.
Nothing fills that space. Yet, I can still have an enjoyable, productive life. I walked in one of our favorite parks over the weekend. It was a beautiful day and a lovely walk. I felt Dan walking with me, but no one held my hand. That’s how it goes.
Grief Is Hard Work - Grief is emotional and physical. Respect what your body tells you.
I don’t know about grief being hard work, but living with the toll that the loss creates is.
Do Things When the Time Is Right - There are things to do right away and things that can and should wait.
It’s been two years since Dan died. A few months ago, I visited our home in Olympia, WA. I wrote about the visit in the article Walk In The Woods. It was time - family members were there, but I walked in “our” woods by myself. The message from the walk: the woods remained the same even though my world was different - maybe our love could remain the same but different.
Celebrate Your Memories - The times you miss your partner most are the special days you shared.
He’s a part of our everyday conversations - the good memories and the struggles.
One particular memory is of us sitting at the table. Dementia had a firm grip on Dan’s thinking. He looked at me, took my hand, and said, “I like you and want to spend the rest of my life with you.” I replied, “are you asking me to marry you?” and he said, “yes!” I said, “yes!”
Those tips helped me with the grief, and I am coming into my own - becoming my own person and moving on in life.
Reinventing myself began with the decision to go on and make new choices. For me, that meant
Starting over - challenging and discarding long-held beliefs and habits; taking on responsibilities I never wanted.
Making many mistakes and wrong turns along the way.
Finding a way for life to be good even though Dan was no longer here to share it.
Pushing myself to do things I didn’t want to do but were necessary.
So far, those new choices have led me to
Share our story with others - so they don’t make similar mistakes.
Keep a daily journal.
Participate in a Christmas Fair.
Learn to paint landscapes.
Cooking - It’s a challenge to fix dinner for one person at 6 PM, but putting ingredients in a crockpot at 9 AM and letting it cook all day works better.
Traveling - In the past years, I’ve gone on several great trips - Hawaii, Victoria Island, and Salt Lake City. We are planning others.
Two years ago, there wasn’t time for writing and art. Dan didn’t want to travel. Today, those doors are open. I didn’t know what I could do, so my confidence is growing. Who knows what the future will bring?
If you’ve followed the newsletter, you know my struggle to move from who I was to who I am becoming. While there is more to do, I am up and running - differently, not the way I wanted - but running.
In the article, I’m No Cinderella, two comments stood out
so long as I sought, outside of myself, that for which I desired, I would continue to attract that missing piece in others.
Happily ever after is my responsibility.
I was looking for someone to take care of me - that’s what I knew, but taking care of me is my responsibility.
These two articles summarize my story: The Power of a Personal Challenge and The Power of Purpose. My challenge led to a new purpose - sharing what I have learned with others.
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