On Jan. 27, 2015, my husband of 39 years made me a widow.
He died, alone, at a VA hospice while my son and I stepped away to grab a bite to eat. We were only gone for a half-hour. Death was inevitable, of course, but nothing prepares you for the shock of stroking your husband’s cheek and finding it is already cold.
So painful. So empty. So final.
A Vietnam War veteran, Joe developed Parkinson’s disease from exposure to Agent Orange. Parkinson’s is a hideous way to die. By 2014, the brilliant and brusque Ph.D. candidate I met at the University of Oregon in 1973 could no longer brush his own teeth, put his clothes on, walk to or use the toilet on his own, or even swallow baby food when the end was near. He was broken and demented.
Our 38-year-old son and I took care of him at home for as long as we could, with the help of aides who came every night to bathe him and tuck him into bed. I persevered when he got up 17 times one night, stumbling to the bathroom, forgetting why he’d gone there, then stumbling back to bed. Over and over and over again. But when Joe fell to the hardwood floor trying to get out of his wheelchair and then fought my efforts to get him up, the time had come to send him to a nursing home. He understood immediately when I told him.
“I won’t go,” he vowed.
“You have to go,” I replied. “We can’t keep you safe at home any more.”
We visited every weekend and, when we could, during the week. Even as Joe’s condition worsened, he never failed to recognize us. His eyes always brightened when he saw us coming. Even as he lay motionless, in a coma, for his final 11 days on Earth, we saw smile lines crinkle at the corners of his eyes when we spoke to him. That small sign of recognition was a gift from God. I knew it then — and am more certain of it with every passing day.
I am starting this blog to chronicle my journey from wife to widow to warrior. (I’ll explain the warrior part later.) Maybe writing will be relief for me as I mourn. Or maybe something will speak to someone else embarking on a similar journey.
Widowhood has made me keen to God’s presence. This new chapter — likely the final one of my life — is about trusting Him and learning to be alert as He shows me the way. It’s about sharing my blessings.
I don’t know where this new journey will take me, but I am hopeful and not afraid.