I was a caregiver for my wife. She had symptoms shortly before we were married and she was diagnosed after 2 years of marriage with MS. We were married for 50 years and she was progressive for the last 25 or so. The last several years were very intensive care at home. I did have the benefit of having very good home health aides to help me keep her at home. We used hospice and she passed away last year and we observed all of the appropriate religious observances which gave me comfort.
I have made new estate plans and all arrangements for me since I don’t want to be a burden for my family if anything happens to me. I revoked the trust I had set up for Kathy and filed all the appropriate claims and completed all the paperwork for her passing. With all that behind me I am planning for and contemplating a secure retirement for my future. I got counseling and attended a grief support group and did some reading on the subject. Grief for a well spouse is a little more complicated. Not better or worse than other grief but more complicated. It is complicated by more survivor guilt. Relief of the caregiving burden may cause more guilt. The lack of a person to care for can lead to an identity crisis. I was a caregiver. Who am I now?
While I am certainly no expert, I know what is working for me and what is not. What does not work for me is sitting home and dwelling on my loss. This includes thinking of the good times we had and how much I miss loving my sweetheart. Oh, I loved her and the good times we had but it is much more rewarding to tell someone and be in good company. Then it became obvious to me that making new friends and sharing new activities by being with people (some who may have had a similar loss) is far more important. One new friend put it to me this way, “we all have a sad story but we don’t dwell on that here anymore”. We go out and meet new people, who were not friends of me and my spouse. Before you know it you are being introduced and socializing and learning to be a complete person again. Not half of a duo but a soloist who can learn to live again quite well on his own and develop a new identity. An identity that does not involve caregiving.
What makes it special is that I never forget my beloved Kathy. I laugh and I think of her. I cry and I think of her. I travel and I think of her. She is now with me in spirit always. While she is physically gone she lives on in my heart. She will never be replaced or forgotten. She holds a special place within me and I know I will always have her in spirit.
Life is starting to look good again to me. Instead of feeling I am living without her, I live with her in my heart and mind. I am making the rounds with the doctors getting around to all the tests I put off. I am looking after my weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and all the things that should be under control. I have purchased some new clothes and I am planning some trips in the US and some foreign travel. Family and friends, new and old, tell me they are happy to see me looking so good. I proudly tell them I am doing well.
To me it seems grief is a process. Something we must go thru. But success in going thru it is by taking one small step at a time. By putting one foot in front of the other until you are walking again. I am continuing my volunteer work and keeping active. I don’t know what the future holds. I told someone that I was denied a mid-life crisis so I am determined to have an end of life one. If you see me show up in a new sports car you’ll know why. But I do know two things for sure. Kathy will always be in my heart and life is good and to be lived fully. It will never, never be the same but it can be very, very good.
by Robert Mastrogiovanni