Editor’s note: this is a true account by a recent widow. I changed names and places to protect her identity.
This week it was 40 days since my husband Walter passed. In many ways, the 50 days went by quickly. Is it because we were separated almost six months with Covid-19 restrictions at our continuing care retirement community of Olive Grove.
Walter was in the skilled nursing unit of the health center, and I live next door in the independent unit. We were separated before the mandate. No more visits! Pandemic precautions. It was a sad and difficult time for both my husband and me. We were married 56 years and then the separation in early March.
Yes, we tried phone calls and twice-a-week face time, but Walter with his severe dementia really didn’t understand that. My voice no longer seemed to stir him. Nurses and aides and activities staff would try to contact me whenever he was babbling, but that diminished after months of separation. I was and am thankful neither he nor others here at Olive Grove got the Covid-19 virus, however, I’m certain Walter passed not because of dementia but with the pandemic separation side effects.
There were six residents who sat together at Walter’s dining table before Covid. All but one had regular, daily visits from a family member or a personal assistant. Surprise! In the first few weeks of separation, three died and within five months of Covid separation all six died. Sandy, Phyllis, Diane, Phil, Frank, and then Walter, who was the last to go. It wasn’t with Covid-19, but death hastened by the separations brought on with the virus restrictions.
The life Walter and I looked forward to daily was stopped, gone. No more of our morning and afternoon routines. No more daily walks/wheelchair rides. Gone was my washing his face and hands with a hot washcloth, rubbing his hands and head with a good smelling lotion, having a fresh peeled clementine as we looked at the gardens, listening to the dulcimers practice, getting greetings from Hilda and residents living in the Independent as we went riding through their building.
And oh, those chicken wings from the pub on Fridays and sitting out by the gazebo with a fresh cup of Starbucks from friendly Murray. Our routines gone — all gone. We did together what is advised for dementia patients. We were involving all the senses and with personal loving care. Gone — separated.
Walter’s appetite declined as would have occurred eventually, but I was no longer there to give the personal assistance I so often did. My purpose was fading. Nurses and aides gave so much of themselves, but our own warm, personal, loving connection was gone. Not to see each other in person or even from outside his room window? Not the hug or pat or touch or smell or sound of my voice.
Rules and regulations were to be followed. No personal visits! Separated from one another. What more was there? Covid testing readiness for the day I might get to hug Walter again? Did the test four times mainly to prove I was ready whenever things opened up.
Walter’s will to go on was gone, as was life as we knew it. His health declined to the point he couldn’t continue. He lost 39 pounds in four months. Staff tried and did their very best, but he had enough.
Finally, rules lightened when death was imminent. We had hours together his last three days. He lay in bed with eyes shut. Our daughters dressed in PPEs spent hours with us talking, reading, sharing stories, laughing, crying and playing his favorite music.
Walter mostly slept, but he heard us. And each day we left him with our believing he understood how much we loved him and we knew how much he loved us.
It was time to go. I kissed him and he kissed me back.
Walter is physically gone now, but his spirit remains.
The sadness of separation and death remains.
But we can’t allow ourselves to be separated from the many good memories.
My final words were: “I’ll love you forever, Walter.”