People often comment how much more difficult it must have been to have gone through the process of caring for Jim and eventually losing him because we had young children at home. Although what they said was true on some levels, it wasn’t necessarily how I felt. I always sensed the kids gave me motivation and an underlying strength I wouldn’t have otherwise had. Yes, there was more stress worrying about their well-being and how all of the unexpected twists and turns of Alzheimer’s Disease would affect their short-term well-being and their long-term emotional state. And yet I needed to be cognizant of their understanding of what was happening with their father, what they needed to know and what they didn’t need to know, how to support them sensitively while giving them whatever space they needed (no two kids are alike, so whatever one needed wasn’t the same for the other).
Yes, I was constantly being torn in so many different directions I sometimes didn’t know which way I was going or should be headed. At times all I could do was focus on whatever decision or task was literally right in front of me or needing to be attended to at that very moment. So many times I couldn’t even decide what to have for dinner, whether or not to pay bills, grocery shop, do laundry or any of the myriad of tasks that we are all faced with daily. Normally, multi-tasking and doing the mundane is simple. It is easy to know what to do, prioritizing and focusing on what needs to be done and when. And yet, I couldn’t even function enough to wrap my head around figuring out even the simplest thing like what to eat. Which in turn caused me to feel worse about myself because I always felt inadequate to take care of Jim, the kids, the house, my job, the dog, the cats and somewhere in the mix I was constantly being told to be sure to take care of myself.
What I really needed to do and wanted to do ….is sit quietly. I should have just sat next to Jim, as he struggled to understand what was happening to him, to us, to our family, and been still. I should have listened to whatever it was he could say. I should have made the time to be present in the moments we had together. Instead of worrying about getting my list that was ever growing done, I should have focused on the man I was tasked with caring for and loving unconditionally. But hindsight is always 20/20 and life doesn’t present itself with an instruction manual or solutions for managing time, emotions and seeing the bigger picture while living in the portrait.
The kids were oftentimes a burden, yes, but they often were a center to keep me grounded, focused, driven and sane. Well, I am not 100% sure about the sane part, but they did get me up every day, forced me to have some sort of meal every night and keep groceries in the refrigerator and laundry done. They made understand it was important for me to keep moving forward, to keep wanting to live and live well, even if I didn’t always feel like it. There were so many times I just wanted to crawl into a ball, hide under the covers and let my whole being slip into oblivion. Who would have blamed me? I was enabled to be depressed, lethargic, and to let slide my normal self motivation. Everyone understood the stresses and sadness facing our family, yet what I really wanted and needed most was a good swift kick in the rear to remind me our life was not the ideal situation and it was a difficult path to travel, but we still had much to be grateful for even if we were losing the man who held us all together and taught us the most about living and being a good human being.
I miss Jim. I miss his touch and his smile. I miss him being present in our children’s lives and teaching them all of the wonderful things he still had to share. So, losing him at a younger age, missing out on the lessons and the memories that were never made stings. Yet, I recognize the blessings that have been bestowed upon our family. The friends who showed up over and over, the closeness the kids and I have, the appreciation for life, for compassion and empathy, the patience that had always eluded me (and sometimes still does) and the love that we felt from so many. None of these things make up for losing Jim much too early, but if we look, we can see the lessons and the positives. Often I must look harder than normal, but if I choose to, I will see how I became stronger, more appreciative and most of all, deeply layered with lessons that can only be learned through hard earned living and losing.