There are days now when I feel terribly alone. Those days hurt... a lot. After nearly two years of Clare being in an assisted living facility, it still feels strange to eat almost all of my meals alone in total silence, except for the sounds I hear on radio or TV. Evenings and nighttime are particularly lonely when I come home to an empty house and have no one to share my day with before climbing into an empty bed to fall asleep while watching TV. But it's not just evenings. There are also many lonely mornings and afternoons. I no longer have my best friend beside me to share mutual experiences.
That's a major downside to having been lucky enough to have enjoyed a wonderful marriage for nearly fifty years. When you lose your partner in such a marriage, that sense of loss is incredibly great. And life becomes very lonely. Whereas Clare is still alive, she is no longer "there" for me anymore. No matter how hard she may try, she just can't be there for me anymore. Sometimes I look at a picture of us taken in happier times and I just start crying because I miss those times so much. On a few occasions I have even let my thoughts drift to those darkest of places, questioning if I want to go on living without Clare. Fortunately, those darkest of thoughts have only appeared a few times and have never lasted for more than a few seconds. But I have had them.
My life with Clare has been reduced to daily visits when we kiss and hug and express our love for each other. Clare is always confused, so there is virtually no intelligible conversation between us anymore. I tell Clare that I love her, Clare tells me that she loves me, and she thanks me for being "such a nice man." Of late, she has been thanking me for being "such a nice lady." She is not always sure of who I am all the time, but she knows that she loves me and knows that I love her. She falls asleep in my arms each evening on a couch in one of the facility lounges, feeling loved and secure.
My feelings of loneliness and sadness can even make me envious of older married couples. Sounds foolish, doesn't it? But I can't help it sometimes. When with family or friends in their 70s or 80s who are happily married and still in reasonably good health, I sometimes can't help but feel sad knowing that Clare and I will not have those same additional years together. Despite being so thankful for all the wonderful time we have had together, I had still hoped for more.
Watching your spouse of nearly 50 years slowly dying of Alzheimer's is pure sadness. I am sad that Alzheimer's has taken away my best friend, my wife, my lover. I am sad each day when I see Clare as a shell of her former self. Fortunately, Clare's beautifully sweet personality is still there, and that's a comfort. But my best friend, my wife, my lover ... that person is no longer there for me. I have lost that person. Forever.
To get through the loneliness, I try very hard to keep my thoughts about Clare in a "mental box." Thinking too much about Clare is a sure recipe for sadness, tears and pain, so I try not to think too much about her. I know that I must remain strong to 'be there' for Clare because I am her security blanket, her rock to lean on. Ironically, in order for me to be strong for her, I must try hard not to think about Clare too much when I am not with her.
Clare has a serious heart condition. I had been prepared for a long time that there was always the possibility of Clare dying of a major heart attack. But I had never given one second of thought to Alzheimer's. And I certainly wasn't prepared to lose Clare to Alzheimer's at such a relatively young age. But it is what it is. I must try hard each day not to let my loneliness lead to even more sadness.
Loneliness and sadness... these are two feelings that many caregivers find themselves living with on a daily basis during the "long goodbye" of Alzheimer's.
This is the eighth in a series of ten weekly postings sharing emotions I find myself dealing with regularly. It is my hope that these articles will bring some comfort to other Alzheimer's caregivers. My next article will be, "Reflections of an Alzheimer's Spouse... Pride and Regret."
Readers of this blog are invited to learn more about my journey with Alzheimer's, and read copies of more than 40 of my articles previously published in caregiver magazines, medical journals, and newspapers at www.allansvann.blogspot.com. If you would like me respond to any comments or have any questions you would like to ask, please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.