While crossing the northern tier of the country the week before last in “The Beast,” as a buddy has named our RV, I had too much time on my hands to think. Mist and Smoke were asleep on the floor (on a soft rug, one of two I’d put in just before the trip). And I was listening to iPod music while driving east on a two-lane highway.
It had been almost ten months since Di (Charlie) passed away, and I was thinking about her and our previous journeys. Looking to the seat where she usually rode, I couldn’t help thinking how different our experiences of countryside were.
I have never tired of gazing at people and animals, cars, trucks, license plates, roads, towns and cities, lone houses and other structures decayed by time, farms, fields, trees and forests, rolling hills, buttes and mesas and the plains which separate and, yet, tie them all together.
Di, on the other hand, couldn’t have cared less about most of the scenery. She buried her nose in a book, or a dozen of them, and, in the last few years, her iPad and played games (primarily Candy Crush and Mahjong). Occasionally, when I spotted something out of the ordinary, I’d bring it to her attention and she’d look up, comment and go right back to her previous activity.
Even so, this trip was far, far lonelier than any I’d taken before; even lonelier than those I’d ridden, alone on a motorcycle, before our marriage.
As an aside, my iPod contains some 19,000+ songs and tunes encompassing most music genera. I cannot abide rap and hip-hop; although some of them appear due to Di’s Grammy award disks and movie soundtracks. Most of my music consists of classical, jazz, pop, oldies and country.
At any rate, while I was thinking of Di, Willie Nelson came on singing a song by Jan Crutchfield: It Turns Me Inside Out.
I know the song dealt not with life and death but with the end of a relationship, a love affair. So, maybe it was life and death.
It hit me.
“In a way I’m glad it’s over,” begins the song, and I thought of all the reasons why I was glad: Di was no longer in any physical pain, her back no longer hurt; her arthritis and osteoporosis were no longer a concern. She was no longer confined to her chair(s) and dependent on me for fixing meals, bathing her, and helping her to the bathroom, even to use the toilet.
Parkinson’s had completely taken away the independence she had cherished her entire life. She couldn’t drive, couldn’t golf, couldn’t teach.
She’d been forced to retire several years previous after falling three times in as many weeks in her classroom.
Prior to that we both thought that when she retired she’d be able to go golfing several times a week. (Our home on Lake of the Woods sits on the 12th hole dogleg of the local course; almost a 500 yard back lawn.) I’d accompany her, if nothing else, to drive the golf cart. The illness robbed her of that.
I like to take long walks. And, occasionally, she’d meet me on my return route and we’d hold hands and talk about everything and nothing, the way old friends and lovers do. It hurt, and hurts so much, when I see other couples walking hand-in-hand, to think even that was denied us.
. . . and to continue a week later
I don’t have the words to describe my feelings over the last decade of watching her physical condition deteriorate to the point of being unable to take of herself. From a vibrant air of being able to handle everything, usually with a smile, to an inability to take care of almost anything and the realization that such was the case.
But her mind was okay; she was still here in every mental sense. But that was another kind of pain. We both knew what was happening, and was going to happen to her. (Her father died from Parkinson’s.)
Her world narrowed, not just physically, but mentally as well. She’d play on her iPad ignoring her books and TV shows; visits by her friends grew infrequent and, eventually, they stopped coming by at all.
She began to lose her ability to concentrate. She’d read a paragraph or page over and over; yes, sometimes without turning the page for an hour or more . . . and, sometimes with the book upside down.
A couple (?) of years ago she began to have “anxiety attacks.” I’d help her into the car, and we’d go for an hour’s ride which seemed to calm her. She liked the roundabout in Long Beach; it reminded her of England. She also liked to stop at Starbucks for a white hot chocolate or at Dairy Queen for a chocolate shake.
I, also, took her on “walks” at the beach or around the neighborhood, pushing her wheel/transport chair. As with the drives, a hot chocolate or shake was often included. And, of course, I always had a supply of humbugs, or other British sweets, with me.
I don’t know when I first noticed it. But Di began to make comments on our walks about the location of our house, or our “other” house and about neighbors having furniture like ours, even though we’d never been inside said neighbor’s house. A, yeah, . . .
It got to the point where a month or so before she died, she got her rollator (rolling walker) and telephone out in front of the house. (Yes, I was hovering over her every step of the way.) She refused to go back in the house as it wasn’t “her/our” house.
She called 911 and told the dispatcher that her husband was trying to get her into a house that was not hers/ours. She then handed me the phone and said the operator wanted to speak with me.
The dispatcher asked if I really wanted a police officer to stop by. I told her that it would probably be a good idea. A few minutes later a young HB patrolman pulled up to the curb and asked how he could help.
Di and I shared our points of view, and he was able to persuade her to enter the house. By pointing out the pictures showing us and other family members (and, of course, her cats), he was able to “convince” her that it was, indeed, her house and that we lived there.
A part of me died that day. I began to seriously look into options for her care, both part- and full-time care. . . . I knew I could no longer handle it by myself.
A month later she passed away. So, both expected and unexpectedly sudden. “Alone” in a hospital bed at one in the morning as I pulled into the parking lot after a doctor’s call that they were losing her; prevented from being with her by COVID restrictions . . .
So, yes, in a way I’m glad it’s over, but . . . in so many ways it turns me inside out.
And, on that two-lane highway headed east? Well, for the next few miles I just let the tears come.