*Primary Progressive Aphasia, a degeneration of the part of the brain that affects speech.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Ambivalent Widow

At first, sleeping on Tommy's side of the bed seemed like a good idea: It was a quicker trip to the bathroom and would eliminate the nightly toe stubs endured during my darkened path from my side.

But, in this new space, I hadn't had a full night sleep since my husband died November 2. At first, I blamed it on a sort of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder following three demanding events: my hip replacement surgery, 10 days in the hospital with Tommy, and finally an additional 12 at home with him in hospice care

Then, I dismissed the PTSD theory and fixed on this: Tommy, despite his journey to heaven, wanted his side of the bed back. The 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. wake-ups I'd been experiencing were really my husband elbowing me over to my side.

So, last night I obeyed. I returned my iPad to a charger on my bedside table, and lined up on the nearby windowsill, my water bottle, Melatonin pills, Tylenol, and Neutrogena hand cream -- the same setup prior to my switch. I arranged a mini-memorial on Tommy's bedside table with his portrait, his beloved AM/FM earphones, the 40-year-old wallet he refused to replace, his wristwatch that displayed date along with time, and his wedding band.

Then, I scooted onto my side, pulled up the covers, and bawled. My partner was gone. His side of the bed was empty. He would never return for our nightly spooning, or our ritual of him patting me on the tush and me returning a mild pat to his head, and finally, our exchange of “love you,” before falling asleep.

On my side of the bed, I continued to wail as my stored up grief filled the room. I realized I'd been so intent on getting my life back together, that I hadn't allowed myself to mourn my loss. Oh, I had cried each time I left his thinning and weakening body while he was in hospice, and I cried when he finally gave up his last breath, but I hadn't cried over his absence.

After I could sob no longer, I turned over, clicked on iTunes, and slept for 8 hours. There were bathroom trips cautiously tread, but I willingly took this longer route, then snuggled into my old spot hugging his pillow as substitute.

This new role for me as Widow has me ambivalent. There are times of dark loneliness and sorrow. But there are also times of relief that my husband's suffering has ended, and there is glaring awareness I have gained new freedom.

While Tommy's death was sudden and unexpected, my caregiving for him was long and challenging. He was diagnosed with FTD/PPA in 2009, but there were signs my husband had the illness years before.

As Tommy's symptoms worsened, he relinquished his car keys and I became his chauffeur. I feared letting him venture out alone, or even being in the house on his own. Trips to my out-of-town daughters ceased, because he would not be able to call 911 if he got into trouble. My calendar revolved around him. On Tuesdays, if his golfing buddies had a game and took responsibility for him, I was free to make plans with friends. When the boys bailed, I'd take Tommy to practice golf, and then we’d lunch together. I did not want him to be alone, to be without company.

Now, with my husband gone, and my job as caregiver canceled, I’ve booked tickets to Boston in November and Los Angeles in December. I’ve made lunch plans on days of the week that aren’t Tuesday. I take my time returning in the morning from the health club, unlike in the past when I made sure to get back before Tommy woke.

Tommy and I would have celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary January 13, 2013 -- an occasion we looked forward to. We planned to grow old together. It was the second marriage for both. We were content and happy. We rarely argued -- we were satisfied sitting on our facing couches, watching our favorite television shows, and early on, taking turns on the crossword puzzle.

My new solo routine is this: before I go to my side of the bed, where I evidently belong, I pause at Tommy's picture. I bring my fingers to my lips, then place them on his photographed face. "Love you," I say. I hear his response, clear as day, "Love you, too!" 

Then, I imagine my husband giving me another pat on my tush, this one indicating, “You go, girl. It’s your time now.” Anyway, that’s what I imagine.


  1. That is a very very beautiful and poignant essay. You moved me. Thank you Elaine for writing.

  2. Wow I loved this. Thank you for sharing a beautiful story. Your words are inspirational.

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  4. Thank you for sharing this Elaine.

  5. Interesting blog. Thanks for sharing this nice experience. Please keep sharing more and more information. Keep it up.

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  6. This is a beautiful, sensitive and heartbreaking account of deep and personal grief--yet the kind of grief that all of us who are human have shared and will share in the course of our life on earth. I loved how you recount his spirit demanding his half of the bed back! Love it.