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Posted: October 02, 2008

Spousal Caregiving

Reflections on a Spouse's Death and My Post-Caregiving Life

Bill Andrew

As many of you know from my previous columns, my years as caregiver for my wife of 57 years, Carol, ended in early June this year when she went to her heavenly reward after battling Alzheimer’s disease.

During those 14 years, I was her 24/7 family caregiver which meant that as the disease progressed, she was doing less for herself and I was doing more. In the end, I was doing everything for her.  My efforts were critical to her ability to "beat the odds" -- efforts that effectively added at least five years to her life, according to her doctors.

As I embark on another journey, this one of grieving and mourning, I find it healing to reflect on those feelings of grief and explore what they mean.  To help put this reflection into perspective, I thought it would be helpful to share my feelings in the following areas:

  • what my life was like before Carol's death,
  • what my life is like now, and
  • what I want my life to be like in the future.

 My life BEFORE Carol's death

Carol and I spent many happy and productive years prior to her diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.  God was good to us and to our two sons.  We had moved from the cold of Wisconsin to the warmth of Florida in November 1960.  In September 1994, things took a turn for the worse when the ugly head of Alzheimer's reared its ugly head.  On the way to a routine appointment in Lakeland, Carol made a wrong turn and got lost.  Confused, she called me collect from a gas station off Interstate 4 and said she didn't now how she got there.  I drove from Winter Haven to "rescue" her, and she followed me home without incident.

Thereafter, it became obvious that something was not right and that we would have to take corrective action.  The initial diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease was made in January 1997, with a confirming diagnosis two years later. 

My life then became one of a 24/7 family caregiver for Carol.  I explored many options that would maintain her health and well-being.  I also explored many options that would facilitate my ability to provide the type of care that she needed initially and would need as the disease progressed.  While my main focus was on providing the best possible care, I knew that if I did not take care of myself, who would be there to take care of Carol?  Placement in a nursing facility was out of the question; providing continuous care at home was deemed the best alternative.

And so our retirement years became caregiving years.  My whole life revolved around providing care for Carol.  I doubt that I would have been as successful in providing that care for Carol, if it had not been for my prayer life.  We had always been spiritually inclined; prayer was a fact of our life.  Both Carol and I prayed as this journey continued.  And those prayers provided both of us with the sustenance to travel this "journey of life" as a "journey of faith."

And then, Carol died this past June 9.  Her death was peaceful in that she died in her sleep with me at her side.  Jesus wanted her with Him, leaving me to reflect on our 14-year journey with Alzheimer's disease during our 57 years of married life as husband and wife.  I consider those 14 years as Carol's 24/7 family caregiver the best years of my life because I was living the Gospel of Jesus Christ ("love is patient, love is kind . . . love endures all things, love never fails").  Our wedding vows, made before God on August 22, 1951, said it all: ". . .in sickness and in health, 'til death do us part."

My life NOW

What can you say after 57 years with the same woman, the love of my life?  I miss her and I miss her deeply -- because I loved her and I loved her deeply.  My life is now one of grieving and mourning.  This time of bereavement is also one filled with memories, lots of memories and flashbacks of times and things that Carol and I had and did over those 57 years of love and commitment.  Just looking at Carol's picture gives me consolation, knowing she is in a better place and not suffering from the effects of Alzheimer's disease. 

For me, it is also a time of spirituality and prayer.  Since Carol died, I have made every effort to go to Catholic Mass on a daily basis, which I offer up for her.  I also pray that I will be a "survivor," now that I am alone on this "journey of life" -- this "journey of faith."  Sometimes people will make a comment such as, "Sorry that you lost Carol." My response is that I did not "lose" Carol, since I know exactly where she (her soul) is.  She is in Heaven with our Lord, Jesus Christ!

I have found that by keeping busy, I do not dwell on not having Carol with me.  My life now is one of adjustment. Since I am no longer the 24/7 family caregiver, I have time to get things done that had not been done over these past several years, like yard work and house work.  Writing my columns published on this CaregiversHome website gives me an opportunity to describe my feelings about Carol and her death.  Chairing Polk County Family Caregivers keeps me busy, especially with the special events that require planning.  Facilitating the Alzheimer's Support Group is both challenging and rewarding, since it gives me the opportunity to share my journey with Carol as well as the many lessons learned the hard way.

I am also attending a grief support group and its events, which together help me to come to grips with my grief.  As if the above were not enough, I am still doing research and some consulting in the health care field, work that I had done in my prior consulting career.

So, life goes on -- one day at a time.  My biggest challenge is to accept my grieving and mourning as the best way to heal from my loss.

My life in the FUTURE

While I will continue to miss Carol, I will have her in my memories.  Whenever I look at her picture, I will be reminded of what I had -- and what I am missing.  However, as a wise man once said, "Life must go on!"  And so, I will go on with my life.  One of the major lessons I learned in my 14-year journey as Carol's 24/7 family caregiver is that "loving is giving . . . giving is loving."  As such, I will continue to give to my family, to my friends, to my church, and to my community -- because I love them.

This giving is an expression of my continuing love for Carol because everything I will be giving will be done in her name.  I will continue to be an advocate for those traveling this same family caregiver journey.  This advocacy will be through my writing, my support group, my volunteering, my church work, and my life of prayer.  While I look forward to the day I can join Carol in Heaven, I realize that my work here on earth must continue until that day, when God calls me home to be with Carol. 

Please e-mail me at ASKBill@caregivershome.com with your comments and/or reactions.  I will include them in a future column with your permission.  Please provide your full name and address.  In the column, I will only use your first name and the initial of your last name as well as your city and state.  Thank you.

WORDS TO CARE BY . . .

"For everything, there is a season,

and a time for every matter under heaven…

a time to be born, and a time to die…

a time to weep…a time to mourn…

a time to love…

He has made everything beautiful in its time."

Ecclesiastes 3: 1, 2, 4, 8, 11 (RSV)


Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

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