Six weeks have passed since we learned husband Paul’s heart is finishing its run. Almost immediately I began to have what I call pop-up memories, because they pop up like unsolicited ads that appear and disappear — leaving only a fragment of an image.
The fact my pop-up memories have no relationship to our current situation and were merely brief images of ordinary events like arriving at a motel after a long drive or walking a trail through woods was curious.
If I paid attention to the pop-up, I most often felt pleasantly nostalgic; although I wondered what my mind was trying to do. I believed the memory fragments had something to do with our lives at this moment.
I puzzled over the explanation. I wondered if others whose long life with their beloved partner was drifting or had drifted away had the same experience.
Finally, it occurred to me that the foundation of our life together was crumbling, and much was falling to pieces. My life lay scattered in bits and pieces that my mind was picking up and trying to put back together.
I imagine losing your life’s partner is the psychological or emotional equivalent of losing everything you own in a terrible fire or flood and going through the remains to find whatever was left, even if it was just a fragment of cherished photo.
We should not be surprised that we reflexively try to put things back together to establish some sense of control. Isn’t that what we do?
We have built in protective mechanisms that protect us from the pain of the reality facing us. We know shock and denial to be the first mechanism from the fine work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Not surprising that we would begin to value the fragments we think we touch and use them to build whole memories.
Many of us know and have said to others that memories comfort us in times of loss. Are pop-up memories the beginning of building the web of support that allows us to live on?
I will choose to accept it as so and nurture the pop-ups instead of dismissing them.
Meanwhile, our home life has settled into a routine of sorts. Paul is in a welcome plateau in his condition, and we can manage his daily care with the help of Assured Hospice. He participates in his care in a meaningful way. He can usually walk with the support of a walker. If he feels unsteady, we have a wheelchair provided by hospice.
At this moment he is practicing navigating in the wheelchair by himself. I sit not too far away using a laptop to write this column. I always want to be within calling distance. I continue in high alert.
This morning I heard a noise while I was exercising. I stopped and rushed out to check. His son, who was visiting, looked at me strangely and said, “He just sneezed, Bertha.”
OK, that is a good thing, thought I, uncaring of any other perceptions.
Another good thing is I am learning to navigate the systems that allow one to order groceries and supplies online. We are grateful to have willing and able friends ready to shop and deliver whenever we need something, but it is much easier if they can pick up a paid order.
Still, there are items that should not be ordered like certain produce that needs an eye for individual preferences or bacon about which Paul is particularly picky. I suffered bacon anxiety when I first took on grocery shopping something I do not wish on our friends.
Then, there are Paul’s cravings. A friend brought lunch one day from a local restaurant. Paul could not stop talking about the salad dressing and slopped every bit out of the small plastic cup. His obsession touched a friend who took it on herself to “score” him a supply of this dressing as she described it.
The restaurant had no interest in selling their dressing. That is until she said it was to satisfy the cravings of a man in hospice. I will spare the restaurant a run on its dressing by not naming it or the dressing, but I wish them good karma and send them our gratitude as well as our love and gratitude for our resourceful friend.
‘The Giving Tree’
One son gave us the charming book “The Giving Tree” written by Shel Silverstein. It quickly became clear why he thought we should have it now.
The author wrote many children books. “The Giving Tree’ would appear to be for a younger child; however, anyone over 70 years of age can easily believe the book was written for them. I recommend it.
As the story goes, the tree loves a little boy who visits the tree every day. The little boy takes from the tree what the tree happily gives, even in sacrifice of itself. The book ends with the little boy, now an old man, sitting on the only thing left of the tree, a stump.
“’I don’t need much now,’ said the boy,
‘Just a quiet place to sit and rest.”
‘Well,’ said the tree
… an old stump is good for sitting and resting.’
The boy did.
The tree was happy.”
What a brilliant and heartwarming portrayal of life and piecing together the bits that matter once lived.
Bertha Cooper, a featured columnist in the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation. Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim more than 20 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.