Picking Up the Pieces

6 Questions To Ponder

We met, when we were 12 years old. We were married for 62 years and our goal was to age well together. But life had a different plan. During the past five years, I was his primary care provider as dementia ravaged his brain, we went through the pandemic, and he died. Our goal to age well had to be modified and now the goal is mine alone. 

Early in this journey, I learned to do the practical things such as managing the finances, fixing minor computer issues, doing all the driving, and taking over the household chores. That was the easy part. The harder part is picking up the pieces of my life. So, in this article, let’s take a look at those pieces and the six questions I ponder.

HOW CAN I GO ON?

The first question is how to deal with the grief, which is more difficult some days than others.

It is not just the loss of a special person, but the loss of my lifestyle, of his companionship and warmth, of our plans for the future, of his guidance and support, and so much more. I try to allow myself to grieve and not talk myself out of it. When the grief does become overwhelming, though; a counselor and friends are available to talk. 

My plan was to share the rest of my life with him, but here we are and it’s in my best interest to move forward.

Authors of an article on the Help Guide website made several good points. The first point was that trying to ignore the pain only makes it worse in the long run. A person must face grief and actively deal with it for true healing to occur.

They also say:

  • Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one nor does it mean people are weak. So, rather than putting on a brave front to protect family and friends, model healthy healing by expressing the sadness.

  • Actually, people who don’t cry probably feel the pain just as deeply as others, they simply show it in other ways.

  • There is no specific time frame for grieving – it differs from person to person.

Along with the grief, other feelings surfaced for me: enormous sadness, a sense of guilt, and anger. Sadness because he isn’t here, guilt because I didn’t have enough answers to help him, and anger because the situation was mishandled in many ways.

The following tips for dealing with sadness discussed on this website were helpful. I manage the sadness by letting the feelings be - they do pass, and distracting myself with other activities.

Guilt clues us in when we’ve stepped outside the boundaries of our core values. One of my core values was to take care of my husband.

The PsycCentral website suggests that while a person can’t change the past, he or she can learn from the experience. I learned that the effects of prescription drugs, hospital stays, and anesthesia on an older person can be damaging and that my voice must be much louder.

NOW WHAT IS MY PURPOSE?

The second question is why should I get up in the morning?

Finding one’s purpose isn’t something that can be done in a few days, weeks, or even months. It also may be that a person’s purpose changes over time and there may be more than one.

My purpose has changed over time. First it was to work and take care of my family, then it was to take care of my husband before and during his illness. Now, my purpose begins with supporting my family and contributing in some way. This website was my guide in exploring future possibilities.

Two ideas that stood out for me were to pursue something I am passionate about, which is aging well and to do something I love, which is writing. So, perhaps, part of my new purpose is to share my experience with others.

HOW CAN I DO THIS?

The third question has to do with creating a new life for myself.

My family was and continues to be my core support team. However, I don’t want to rely soley on them. They have their own lives and families.

My professional team includes an accountant, a lawyer, a counselor, and a financial planner. I am also reaching out online and in person to build new networks and renew old friendships.

In addition, the Hospice support system is available to me. They offer group sessions and a newsletter filled with resources.

But the challenge really is for me to figure out what is compelling enough for me to put my energy into and, then, determine what changes must be made. So far, my focus is on getting resettled and making healthier choices.

WHAT WILL I DO WITH MY TIME?

The fourth question has to do with extra time.

We got to the point where all my time was focused on my husband: entertaining him, checking on him, and taking care of his needs. I was living both of our lives in so many ways.

Then he was in a memory care facility and much of my time was spent advocating for him: trying to visit, getting him settled, and connecting with him as much as possible.

He was hospitalized with COVID, then my time was spent coordinating with the hospital, the facility, and hospice. On call 24/7.

Now that there is extra time, I am exploring new hobbies and reviving old ones, taking care of business, and forcing myself to get out and do things. Surprisingly, there is plenty to do.

WHAT WILL I DO NOW THAT I’M ALONE?

The fifth question has to do with being alone for the first time.

We were married when we were 19 and I have never been on my own. So, this is a new experience. For the most part I keep busy, but there are lonely times. The hardest point of the day is after dinner when we went for nightly walks and watched TV together.

Fortunately, my family includes me in their activities. Two cats keep me company, and I have identified several areas of interest; painting, listening to lectures, cooking, and gardening.

Some would say that being alone has advantages like having time to yourself and doing exactly what you want, or not having someone micromanage your decisions, but there are disadvantages as well.

The big disadvantage is having no one to share with: be it doing household chores, discussing plans for the future and solving problems, or remembering special memories and moments.

Yes, the disadvantages greatly outweighed the advantages; but, then, we hadn’t been able to share for several years because of the dementia. So, in some ways being alone is not new.

The biggest challenge is learning to manage all the responsibilities. Have I remembered everything? How does this new iPhone work? Is this email a scam? How can I fix the toaster? Google is a helpful resource.

HOW CAN I ACCEPT THIS NEW LIFE?

The sixth question has to do with acknowledging that my lifetime partner is no longer here.

I can accept that truth or resist it, but resisting keeps me stuck - unable to pick up the pieces.

Even so, acceptance is difficult. This is a wrinkle I didn’t want nor was I prepared for. We were going to age well together.  

The HealthLine website offers numerous helpful ideas for accepting a loved one’s death. My “take-aways” were:

  1. Take your time to mourn. In truth, the mourning began five years ago as his memory declined and he became someone I no longer knew.

  2. Remember how the person impacted your life. There were so many ways that he made a difference and there are so many daily reminders.

  3. Have a funeral that speaks to their personality. Because of the pandemic and his wishes, we had a family dinner and “celebrated a life well lived.”

  4. Continue their legacy. My plan is to continue his legacy through the writing and keeping his memory alive.

  5. Continue to speak to them and about them. We “talk”daily and he is a part of my conversations with others.

HOW CAN I PRACTICE SELF CARE?

The sixth and final question is how self-care fits in.

It would be so easy to give up, skip meals, stay in bed, feel sorry for myself, and mourn. But, in the end, that isn’t me.

I began an exercise program and am making sure to eat three meals a day. I am learning to use the computer and to better manage the finances. Although, it’s not my nature, I’m trying to be more outgoing.

One issue to work on is stress – the  stress of being totally on my own, the stress of having all the responsibility, and the stress of learning all the things I was never concerned about before.

This website offers a wealth of ideas for taking care of oneself. My program includes writing daily in a journal, reading books, taking walks, meeting with a counselor, hugging my cats, and staying involved. I am, also, developing a self-care plan.

The authors make a good point when they say “Taking care of yourself while grieving is not a luxury it’s a necessity!”

PICKING UP THE PIECES

My underlying goal remains the same: to age well. To meet that goal picking up the pieces of my life are a must and what helps is to answer the previous six questions.

No matter your situation - be it getting divorced, having a loved one with a terminal illness, or losing a family member, this article may offer helpful ideas.