Dear siblings and kids,
I wrote most of this before Carol passed away at the end of October. I decided to leave it as is because it describes where I was during the month of October.
This past year has been filled with a strange mixture losses and gains. The first losses and gains are physical. As people grow older or experience disease they begin experiencing the loss of independence. First was the loss of being able to drive because of the arm surgery and neuropathy in her feet. She became dependent on me to take her shopping, visiting friends, going to bible study. As things progress you lose your ability to do daily activities. Things like cooking, making the bed, and doing the laundry. Then comes the loss that affects your sense of dignity. You need help going to the bathroom, taking a shower, dressing yourself and combing your hair. Carol went through these losses over the past year. Carol didn't want to be dependent on me. At the same time I gained a sense of being needed and purpose. It was clear, my job description was to help her wherever it was needed. Hmmm…. one loses and one gains.
Another set of losses and gains is in the area of emotions and feelings. One of the gains is the experiencing of emotions and feelings over an extended period of time that one normally experiences for short periods. When Carol is in pain I try to make her comfortable. Would you like an ice pack? A heating pad? Do you need your pillows adjusted? It is not yet time for your pain medication. Is your pain level a 5 or a 7? Knowing that you can't make the pain go away brings emotions and feelings I normally try to block out of my life. I feel detached and unable to help her through it. I am this observer watching someone experiencing suffering. I am outside and can't do anything to help her on the inside… like observing through a barrier. They are uncomfortable feelings. Strangely, I gained the ability to read her face and could tell you exactly her pain level.
Another set of losses and gains are relational. People lose loved ones in different ways. Sometimes it is sudden as in an auto accident or heart attack. Sometimes it is slow and takes months and years as in Alzheimer's or a stroke. Either way one goes through sadness and grieving that a person you once knew is no longer the same. I am losing Carol, slowly over the months…it is not a good feeling. It is a slow ache. And yes, I occasionally shed tears. Carol spends most of her day in the recliner in her study with the TV on. She is very fatigued and sleeps a lot. It is like we live separate lives. We sleep in different rooms. I miss the physical touch we used to share. I spend most of my time doing maintenance…keeping things clean and put away…maintaining home and yard. I want the conversation times we used to have. I remember Carol describing her mother after her stroke as no longer being the mother she knew. The physical and mental limitations of the stroke turned her into someone who was not her mother, yet she was her mother. I am beginning to experience something similar with Carol. She is my wife, but not the wife I knew. The cumulative effects of the chemo, surgery, radiation treatments and pain is changing her.
I am losing my wife and at the same time I am gaining a new experience of watching her hunker down in her faith and trust. As the bad news increased she went more and more inward toward her trust in God. I could see her drawing closer and closer to God. I gained the experience of watching her become more sure of God's reality and less concerned about the things we think are important for living. I don't want to return to the world of illusion where we think we are in control.
Keri, Chris and Kelly are sensing the changes in Carol as well. Whenever they drop by or call they seem to expect that things are not getting better and are not surprised that things are getting worse. I watch them go through the same loss… the loss of the mother they knew.
I can't make much sense of the loses and gains. There seems to be no purpose and there are no answers from God…except to trust in His character. Right now the losses seem to outweigh the gains. So I am left to trust that God is doing something far more beautiful than I can imagine. I think Carol will have some extra special glory about her in heaven due to this journey of loses and gains and only she and God will know the reason.
Once again, thanks for listening. I've recently written two more emails that are very different. I will send them out in the near future.