After 47 years of marriage, five children and 14 grandchildren, my husband, Marc, lost his beloved wife to Alzheimer's. Phyllis's illness spanned 10 cruel, heart wrenching years during which Marc was her soul caregiver.
Several years ago our old friend, Harry, from California, sent us an email expressing concerns that his wife, Florrie, had been exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer's. He looked to Marc for direction. Marc conveyed his sadness and advised Harry to look for a support group, immediately, because belonging to one could ease the difficult years ahead. Marc had not known about support groups during his ordeal with Phyllis. He later recognized how helpful it would have been for him to be able to share his loneliness and pain with others who were going through his same torture. Harry took Marc's advise, became actively involved in a local Alzheimer's Association, and found it edifying, instructive and comforting.
Shortly thereafter we received an update from Harry, who was now 88-years-old. He could no longer give Florrie the care she required, and had just put her into a home. He was devastated and questioned how he would be able to continue, alone, after losing his wife of 62 years.
Marc wrote a letter to Harry, in which he opened up and shared his feelings and experiences -- some of which I hadn't known. His letter deeply and profoundly touched me. It was then that I thought about countless others going through similar heartbreak as they, helplessly, watch the slow demise of loved ones. With Marc's permission I decided to share his letter with those people toward a goal of offering them a degree of comfort and hope.
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Losing my lifetime partner was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. It took me to the deepest hole of darkness I had ever experienced. So much so that at least three times I thought to leave this earth with her, by my own hand.
When Phyllis was put into a home where she could be cared for, loneliness became my constant partner. I walked around lost, not knowing where to go and not wanting to go there alone. It took almost a year of living alone before I realized Phyllis was truly gone out of my life and would never return again. I had been holding onto the notion that something would happen to right the wrong within her and life, as I'd known it, would return again. Of course it didn't.
At that turn of time I decided I did love life, I did want to live, and I did want to live as happily as I had before the roof fell in. I talked with my children, told them I had chosen to live again and had chosen life over death; that I realized their mother was truly gone and nothing I could do would ever change that. They supported my feelings and supported me, and we actually became closer then we'd ever been before. That was the first of the beautiful happenings in my beautiful future.
I know what you're going through now, Harry, and I think I know what you will go through in the future. I can only tell you what I suggest you do for your future welfare; that which I chose to do and that which has made me whole again -- maybe even more so than I ever was before.
After losing the one woman I loved for 50 years, and going through the depths of hell, I reflected on who I was. I thought about the differences in each other that we had learned to adapt to and what I wanted and needed to be happy again. I realized that I wanted to find another partner. I needed someone who would respect the memory of the woman I loved and lost, and would be a woman who closely fit the person I am, even more so than my lost love. I knew if I hunted long enough, was dedicated and broad based enough, I would find her. And I did.
If I can convey any helpful sense of information to anyone who has been where I've been, it would be to realize that your lifetime partner has been taken away, never to return, and you must go on living. Florrie will always be there within your memory, bringing tears of sorrow to the surface from time to time; but the hurtful sorrow will slowly fade away, and only the beautiful moments will remain as memories.
The experience changed my depth of caring for others, my sensitivity to life and the appreciation for my family and friends; appreciation I had never truly understood or known before. I have become a better human being, less selfish, more loving, and more considerate of others.
Harry, if I may, please allow me: find a woman to love again, a partner to hold, to converse with, to sleep with, to go out to dinner with and to share the remainder of your life with. You are not to old to deserve this. As long as there is breath within you, you will have wants and needs that deserve to be met. And let me assure you that there is a woman out there with your same needs and desires, who is anxious to be loved and to return your love. Companionship is vital, or you will wither.
I grieve with you now and look forward to your future happiness.
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Note: Harry eventually lost Florrie and was devastated, but through his involvement in the Alzheimer's Association, he met a lovely woman who had also lost her spouse to the dread disease. They were inseparable. They shared a love of music. Harry played piano, while she accompanied him vocally and they ended up taking their show on the road...to various Independent Living Facilities and other organizations comprised mostly of the elderly. Harry said he never dreamed he could find happiness again after going through such devastation.
So, it seems there IS life after death.
When Harry passed away, at 92-years-old, he wasn't alone. He had found happiness and fulfillment once again.