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Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Words - December 2011

Role Call
Submitted by Joanne Niswander, Bluffton

It was an ordinary, yet not-so-ordinary, morning when I felt it for the first time. It caught me off-guard. My senses suddenly tensed.

I was walking down the sidewalk in town, having just purchased a bedside clock-radio at the local hardware, and was headed toward the pharmacy to pick up a prescription plus a few other odds and ends. How many times had I walked that same sidewalk, past those same shops? Hundreds, I suppose. Nothing at all memorable about this trip.

But, at that moment, something felt strange. I felt vulnerable. Conspicuous. Different.

"I feel like a widow," I thought to myself, with a great deal of surprise. Although experience had never afforded me the knowledge of how a widow really felt - inside - and I had not suddenly become a widow, yet I knew I had stepped for a moment into those shoes.

You see, it was the first full day of a new life for me, as well as for my 80-year-old husband. Just the afternoon before, we had moved him from our apartment into a skilled nursing facility located just a mile away. A combination of decreasing mobility and increasing Alzheimer's disease had necessitated the move.

The move was planned, anticipated. We both knew it was time as I was no longer able to give him all the physical help he needed. We had talked it over with personnel at the nursing home and all had agreed it was time to make the move. Our children, scattered all over the country, had assured us their complete support. We had waited six weeks for a space at the home, and one had finally opened. We took it. Our granddaughter and her family were going to be here to help with the physical part of the move. It all went very smoothly.

But the emotions had never been rehearsed. I had just encountered the first one. It caught me completely by surprise.

Dean and I had been separated many times during our 58-plus years of marriage, including countless overnight business trips, several hospitalizations and all the extra things that fill a couple of lives (including raising six children to adulthood). But those separations were seldom for more than a few days at a time. Our daily schedules sent us in different directions but we enjoyed many after-hours activities together. We were a team.

Retirement had drawn us even closer, as we thoroughly enjoyed traveling and volunteering together. We attended Elderhostels in different parts of the country. We took classes at the local Institute for Learning In Retirement. We spent years as volunteer alumni ambassadors for our alma mater, Bluffton University, meeting with alumni all across the U.S. and Canada. We were still a team.

We took countless trips across the country to spend time with our children and grandchildren. We drove the Al-Can Highway. We enjoyed several trips to Europe. However, as my husband's disabilities began to set in, we were forced to stay closer to home. We moved to an apartment in a retirement community. I eventually became the sole caregiver. Even then, we continued to enjoy our togetherness. We were still a team.

This new separation, I knew, was permanent. It wasn't like the earlier knee surgeries, with replacement, rehabilitation and return to normal. There might be rehab, but there would be no normal to return to any more. He wouldn't come home. I would be alone.

Even though I was not a widow, there was a different feel to life that, I soon discovered, would take some getting used to. So I have come to deal with this new period of my life with the term "half-widow."

For is that not what I am? My partner-for-life is gone, but not completely out of sight. We still spend time together each day, but then I leave and we each go to bed alone. The little things of daily life are mainly lived alone, by each of us in our own place. I am on my own, but my daily activities still center around our times of being together. And I know that, at least at this point, his daily activities center around my visits. But it still comes down to the fact that I, alone, am the one who makes the decisions and pays the bills.

Each widow has to find her own way to get on with life. So too, I've discovered, does a half-widow. Now I go to a concert alone and sit beside whoever has had the opportunity to claim my husband's seat (next year I'll purchase only one ticket). I shop the men's department and hope the pants I find for him don't have to be exchanged. I am just getting used to signing his name, followed by mine as POA (power of attorney).

I don't know how much longer I will be living this "half-widow" life. It could be for many years. I hope to be able to continue making the decisions and paying the bills until I am a full, bona fide widow. And, when that time comes, I'll finally know how a widow really feels - inside.

It may not be that much different.

Story submitted for the Ohio Department of Aging's Family Caregiving Story Project.

For caregiver assistance, please call your area agency on aging at 1-866-243-5678.

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