The Care Giver Responds to Memory

I don’t think I could be a columnist, putting out a column every day, I just don’t have that tenacity. I don’t plan anything, I must wait until something strikes me and then write about that.
Often halfway through what I am writing about morphs into something else and then I realize what has caused me to write seems to be as important as what I ended up writing so I go back and add that in.
The other day I started to write on the PPA Support Group on Facebook that, because of the painters and carpet people, my house is chaotic, nothing in its usual place except the toilet seats and yet I ended up writing about my wife’s ashes.
This is the important part of what I wrote on FB

Days are busy and easy, nights are difficult.
It is difficult to accept and internalize that Jackie is really gone, that I don’t get to talk with her or hold her hand.
After giving part of her ashes to her children, putting some in a small heart that gets tucked into a teddy bear for her wonderful care giver and filling the urn for me, there were still some ashes left.
That bag of ashes sat on my bedside table for a week and I just walked around it, trying to decide what to do.
Finally I decided I would put the remainder of ashes on a flat rock in a small stream that ran by our house in wet seasons. Her continuing presence there would be decided by the weather.
Somewhere uphill from my property there was a rain squall and the water in the stream got deeper and faster. As I watched the pile of ashes were melted away, in seconds there was only a residue in the water and, in just a few seconds more, the water ran clear.
Lying in bed, at night, in a house that is empty of anyone else, with most of the furniture moved aside and everything in boxes, it is very easy to think that life is purposeless and not worth living now but I know that feeling is transient.

Today I realized that something had drawn me away from the busy activity of getting my house ready to think about the small residue of ashes described in the quoted segment above.
What incited me to stop and do something about those ashes?
Why, at that moment, was I in control, yet in the mood that stirred me to do something definitive about an issue that had been visible for a couple of weeks?
And this is what I remembered.
I had been reading a book entitled ‘An Officer and a Spy’, a novelization of the Dreyfus affair and the protagonist, in an aside, talked about his mother. She was ill, with advancing senility, and he shared care of her with his sister. In a minor incident, totally irrelevant to the plot he described how she fell and broke her hip. In order to care for her, the doctors anesthetized her.
I read that phrase and instantly I was reminded of the episode years ago, before my wife showed any changes in behavior, when she was deeply sedated for more than three weeks to manage a severe pneumonia.
Yes, now we know that general anesthesia is almost deadly for those with dementia
Yes, the protagonist mother woke into the final stages of a dementia and died some weeks afterwards.
All this described in a page or two of text.
My mood went instantly from energetic to somber and that mood persisted through the evening and I awoke the next day and saw the small bag full of the residue of her ashes.
And I wrote the piece above.
However far in the past is our life, our time together and her death, I will always be tied to Jackie by memory.
Our years together have a hold on me that time will never break.
Nor do I want it to.
I can discard our possessions, sell our home, bury her ashes but she will always be embedded in me – for good or bad.
I know that I can be cheerful in the future but will I ever be happy?

4 thoughts on “The Care Giver Responds to Memory”

  1. Personally, I think you will be happy again…at times. Your photography shows me that, Lew.
    I lost the love of my life 17 years ago. Her memory gives me strength now, and also a quiet sadness that I expect will always be part of me. Now that I know I’ll be losing my darling Veda too, I’m even more determined to live each day fully, to keep the smiles around me/us, to remove toxic people from our lives, to make V as happy and fulfilled as possible -and to keep an eye on my own health while I wonder how the hell I’m going to carve out another life alone!
    I hope curiosity will keep us moving on. Much love to you, friend.

  2. Lew, I know and I understand. I still have my husband’s ashes and am ambivalent about what to do with them. I bought a family plot adjacent to my parents’ graves following the death of my older daughter because it seemed right for her, and I have never been sorry; later I memorialized her in an inscription on a bench placed overlooking Lake Michigan. I cud have the ashes placed there, could add an inscription to the bench which will outlast us all, or could scatter the ashes on the Olympic Seashore and Glacier National Park, two places I love and had always wanted my husband to see, I think I will know when and where and that I should not rush the decision. Lately I have been grieving anew, missing all the little moments, all the conversations yet to be shared, his thoughtfulness of me, missing so much it feels unbearable–and yet I know I will bear it. Like you, I know I will be cheerful; happy seems an emotion confined to the past and yet perhaps I will know happiness again. Right now that seems like a betrayal.

  3. Interesting how your article popped up at the same time I’ve been looking for a place to inter my wife’s ashes. She was catholic and I’m Atheist now. The church does not allow ashes to kept at home, dispersed or separated so after dealing with early onset dementia, death, and bankruptcy I have to either beg or pay to bury her on consecrated ground. Fortunately there are kind people that donate niches and burial plots. Made several calls today how coincidental.

  4. As always Lew your words evoke something in me. Frani is in long term care and I’m trying to pick up the pieces of my life. I can outwardly be cheerful but I think my happiness was linked with him. I wish you well as your life moves forward. Thank you for your blog. You speak for many of us.

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