It Begins

Joan Gershman small
A Change for The Alzheimer Spouse
June 15, 2016
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It Begins

An elderly couple wait to cross the road

June 21, 1970- I was 21 years old. I looked up lovingly at the face of  my 27 year old bridegroom, and heard the Rabbi say something about “till death do you part”. Death? I was not thinking about death on the happiest day of my life – my wedding ceremony. I was thinking about spending my life with the man who stood next to me, the man with whom I had fallen in love at first sight.

June 15, 2015 – 1 AM. It was the 5th night I had sat in Hospice House by the bedside of my beloved husband of 45 years. My lover, best friend, confidant, chief cheerleader, my support system, and the man who loved me with unquestioning loyalty, the man who was the other half of my heart. I took his cold hand in my warm one, and tried to bring warmth back to a body, whose life was ebbing out of it. “Till death do us part”, I heard the words in my head. “No”, I silently screamed to myself. Does that mean that when there are no more breaths, I am no longer a wife?  “No, No, No,” my heart screamed in agony, as my mind knew the truth – that death was the only release to his Alzheimer suffering. I wanted to crawl into that bed with him, put my arms around him, curl my body into his, and go with him. And then it was over. There were no more breaths. I lay my head on his still, quiet chest, trying to relive the decades we lay together in the night, warm skin to warm skin, our hearts breathing in sync with one another.  But there were no more breaths – “Till death do us part”. The words of the Rabbi from so many years ago were haunting my mind.  How could this have happened so fast, I thought to myself. Not enough time! Not enough time, my heart screamed. Where had 45 years gone? My hand shook as I pressed the call button for the nurse to come with her kind, sympathetic look, as she placed her cold stethoscope on my love’s now still chest to confirm what I already knew – Till death do us part.

I’m calm, I told myself. Why am I so calm? Why do I feel as if I am floating? I made the obligatory phone calls, heard the sobs and condolences and ………………….I remained calm.

I then called my best friend and her husband, who came to bring me home. He drove me home in my car, as she followed in theirs. I declined their generous offer to stay with me, as my house had been empty and lonely for the nearly two years since I had placed Sid in the nursing home, so this night was hardly different than the previous 600+. “No, it’s okay”, I said. “I’m calm. I seem to have a sense of peace, tranquility, and calm.

I was to find out later that I was not calm at all. I was in shock. A shock that lasted, and carried with it many consequences. Till death do us part. With one last breath, I am no longer a wife. I am a widow.

And so a new journey begins. Come with me as I tell the story of my first year as a widow….as I try to forge a life alone without Sid by my side for the first time in 46 years. It is a story of dichotomies – from a despair so deep that I did not know it existed to little rays of hope and sunshine. Depression and hope. Loneliness and glimmers of friendship. There were ranges of emotional highs and lows so intense that I did not think I would survive them, nor was I sure that I even wanted to.

As there was in my caregiving journey, in my widow’s journey, there will be plenty of room for discussion of YOUR emotions and experiences. We gain strength and hopefully learn to live again by supporting and teaching each other.