“Tears are rolling down my cheeks,” Anita’s comment began after the link to “come to mummy anyway,” which I’d posted in an online caregiver support group. Her comment continued:
“My husband Doug passed away in April 2016. He was fairly alert and able to communicate his needs, though not in complete thoughts, until about five months before his death. We were fortunate, he was ambulatory until about six weeks prior and only bedbound ten days before his passing
During those last ten days, he had moments when he was alert. He spoke to a friend about his, Doug’s, children, remembering them both by name (Lisa and Eric). He recalled his precious childhood kitty, Muffy, and asked one of the hospice nurse’s if she liked her job. She smiled and said she did as she gently touched his hand.
Four days before he died he told me I was beautiful. He also told me he was afraid. Three days before he died, the doctor said he might live another three to five years. Two days before he died, he talked with his deceased grandmother; and then he was gone.
This swift end was unanticipated. I didn’t expect him to go so quickly. Gone too soon. And yet, for all the days of being lost, not soon enough.”
“The suffering is over,” Anita wrote in real time. “The memories never are. If we’re lucky.”
Now tears were rolling down my cheeks. Here we were, two women who had lost people we loved sharing our stories. Previously unknown to each other, thousands of miles apart, yet connected by loss and grief.
I responded with a link to a poem I’d written called “gone too soon.” She answered back.
“Oh my God. ‘Had only, if only, I wish,’ have passed my lips a thousand times. The exhaustion, frustration, aggravation, isolation seem so mundane, so trivial, so unwarranted now. At the time you’re navigating this path, emotion overcomes the reality that someone is struggling much more than you. Regret is the worst word in the English language. One can recover from all other emotions: anger, hate, hurt, disappointment. We can deal with those if we choose to be brave, and mature. But regret can never be undone. Neither can my missing him.”
I was struck by the beauty and wisdom of Anita’s words. I asked if I might share them, with a picture of Doug and herself. She readily agreed. Along with the images she sent, she shared other parts, joyful parts, of their life together:
“His name is Doug Nieland. He was 78 when he passed away. A retired professor at Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, Ky. Originally from Guttenberg, Iowa. A brilliant man, with a great sense on humor. He was a talented magician – a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians for over 57 years.
An avid nature lover, he developed amazing photography skills and captured stunning images of butterflies, insects, and then people. A complex individual with his share of flaws. But he was my biggest fan, supporter and cheerleader. We were married in 1977, and lived in Richmond. I still do.
Doug taught Therapeutic Recreation with an emphasis on aging. He did “all the right things:” ate healthfully, stayed mentally and physically active. For the first 14 years of our marriage, I ran Anita’s Bridal Boutique in Richmond.
I was honored to be named Mrs. Kentucky in 1987. Doug was so proud! He and the other husbands got to dance on stage with Gladys Knight in Las Vegas at the Mrs. America pageant. It was a fond memory he recalled frequently.
I later returned to college and became an Occupational Therapist. And, no, that doesn’t make it any easier when your husband is your “patient.” No marriage, no relationship is perfect, neither is any person on earth. Our trials are many, some wound us to the core, some teach us lessons. The lesson I take away from my and Doug’s life together is to forgive. Forgive them, forgive yourself and never forget to love.
Overall, my life has been, and is, incredibly blessed. I have a daughter and two grandchildren. I’m healthy; I’m alive. I was raised by a strong woman, and I am one.”
The last two sentences made me smile. I reread them silently to myself. I’m healthy; I’m alive. I was raised by a strong woman, and I am one. I paused for a moment to reflect. I’m lucky to have no regrets. Then I put fingers to keyboard, and got back to work.