It's the evenings which are the toughest. Mornings are all bustle and first coffee, plans for the day, bills to pay, things to find and sort. Afternoons are a blur of appointments and errands. Dinner looms and I yearn for company, for purpose. There are no IV drips to hang, no medications to count, to fill, to administer. No creature to cajole into eating, just a little, to taste. They are all gone...the old cats...the old guy.
He just stopped eating. Near the end the nurses told me he would only open his mouth for me, that he kept it clamped shut tight when they tried to feed him. Later they told me they found whatever I had snuck into his mouth, stored there, unused, undigested, not swallowed. Monday night, November 10, 2014, he wouldn't open his mouth for me. I watched myself stop, and give up. After all the pushing, and begging, and demanding...I let go. A chorus of "No's" around the table from the other caregiver relatives of other patients swarmed around my ears as I wheeled him back to his room...leaving the table and his untouched dinner. I still feel as though I willingly starved him to death. For sure he died of starvation and I can only pray that the disease stopped him from swallowing food, not me.
The rest of that week I held vigil for him. He was slightly restless the first night but didn't respond at all, even to the slightest liquids we tried to give him with little sponges on a stick. Hospice decided to start giving him serious drugs at that time, and he never moved or opened his eyes again. The kids flew in from their various places in the world late Friday night and camped out in his room. We held him and each other as the life force drained slowly from his body at 7:15 Saturday night, November 15, 2014. Our son kept a stethoscope on his chest and burst into tears when that loving heart gave one last beat, a sweet goodbye, several minutes after it had stopped. There were a lot of tears in that room that night, but none from me. It was too surreal for me to grasp, too far fetched for me to believe. This was not over; this long, feisty love story was not done. I was relieved for him, but totally in disbelief. I still have doubts that any of this ever happened. Like losing my mother, losing Stewart doesn't feel like loss....just like unbearable, pain filled change.
We had a beautiful memorial service for him at our little church. There were bagpipes and music and heartfelt eulogies. There was good food and there was good fellowship from friends who could make it and family that was left. We all went through the motions, but I remained pretty stoic. A friend once told me that her grief was in a room down the hall from her heart, locked away until she could deal with it. Her plan was to go down that hall a little more each day, knowing that she had to open that door and clean out that room, eventually.
I still don't cry much, though at strange unpredictable intervals deep gasping, wrenching sounds burst from my chest and out of my mouth. I am inexplicably angry with the Alzheimer's Association and mutter unprintable responses to their requests for money. I am beginning to work on whatever "take care of yourself" means, though life has already intruded, as only life can, with others to help through other crises.
I have learned through this journey, through this loss, what a treasure I had in his love, and the truth he knew all along: that I loved him deeply too.