I had known throughout my husband’s long illness that he would eventually die but the course and progression of that illness was very uncertain and, in many ways, he confounded the medical professionals and outlived their expectations. I never doubted that his life was in the Lord’s hands and that his eternity was safe but at times I did worry about how he would die and where and when. Yet the timing and events around his death could not have been better; our eldest daughter and I were with him for the last few days, his mother was able to visit, a number of friends from church visited and I could see the Lord’s hand so clearly throughout the whole time.
I had supported my husband throughout his illness and been his full time carer for the last 11 months, a role that had become increasingly challenging during the last few months. I had known from diagnosis that he would gradually deteriorate and, at different stages throughout that time, I’ve had to come to terms with different losses; a big one was accepting that he would never go upstairs and sleep in our bedroom again and another when he started to use a wheelchair. Our Macmillan nurse called it 'anticipatory grief’ and I have experienced different stages of loss and grief throughout the process and also learnt a lot about myself, my temperaments and how to handle the many and conflicting emotions I’ve felt. That understanding has been absolutely crucial to coping with this situation; it enabled me to care for my husband well, to understand our 2 very different daughters and support them appropriately and to handle my own emotions and challenges as I’ve faced them rather than getting swamped by it all. I’ve struggled with my feelings at times (particularly guilt which is my nemesis!) but, by talking and working through those feelings, I’ve been able to move forward and make good decisions. Understanding myself, my thoughts and my emotions and having the opportunity to talk them through has given me the strength to make good decisions based on what I know to be true rather than being influenced by my changing and often conflicting emotions.
I had to make plans and preparations as my husband’s cognitive and physical abilities decreased and with the knowledge that he would eventually die, including sorting out practical and financial matters and dealing with the ever changing equipment needs at home whilst striving to maintain a well organised family home. I’ve struggled with many of the decisions I’ve had to make, often without my husband’s knowledge. However, because I was able to understand the root of those struggles and was able to share them, I’ve been able to move beyond the struggles and make good decisions and everyone has benefited from that. I find the concepts of ‘Understanding Yourself’ that this church teaches very interesting on an academic level but it goes way beyond an academic exercise; these principals are invaluable for dealing with the challenges life throws at all of us and for living well through those challenges.
In the light of everything I’ve written above I thought I was quite well prepared for how I would feel when my husband finally passed away but the strength of emotion and grief I felt when it happened took me by surprise and overwhelmed me. This is a completely new phase and one I will have to learn how to handle. The understanding I’ve gained throughout the course of his illness hasn’t changed the strength of my feelings or the sadness I feel at his death but it has helped me to understand them and given me the confidence to know that will continue as I move forward.