FTD – Only the Lonely Know The Way I Feel Tonight

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“I have lost the one person with whom I could share everything. I still talk to him like he understands but he just looks at me. Lonely doesn’t begin to describe this feeling. My biggest fear is that I have not cultivated enough close friends to sustain me when he is physically gone. There will be a lot of empty hours to fill” – Christina, caregiver to her husband.

These are the words of someone who is caring for a person with FTD. Sometimes, when you get caught up in the day-to-day life of a caregiver, you lose sight of yourself and reality.

Dealing with constant observation and supervision, food fights, diaper changes and walks keep one busy. Akin to the life of the parent of a toddler, one often yearns for a little peace and quiet. But after all that, after the night comes and calm is present for a short while, the pain of not having your partner to bounce the day off sets in.

Wanting to take advantage of time when you are not needed to guide what can often seem like a military exercise is natural of course. A little time to yourself, quiet time to just sit and do nothing seem like a pipe dream. But when it happens, you don’t really want it. All you want is to have those times back when you sat and talked About nothing, about everything. You just want it back.

“Conversation, I think that is worst. I spend all day talking to someone who never answers me back. Or seems to understand what I’m saying. And then when I do get her to bed and have my quiet time is when it sets in. Oh well the life of FTD” – James, caregiver to his wife, Peggy.

The quiet brings different feelings too. Pain, anger, sadness. Left to your own devices, you begin to dwell on how things might be different if it weren’t for the damn FTD. Conversations about your day, your work, your kids, your friends. The vacation you’re planning, the honey-do list.

Fear and dread overwhelm you. Fear of what you know is to come. Dreading the end result of this bastard disease. But still you endure. Still you go on, because – well, what else can you do? This mission that you have accepted has no defined beginning or end. It just morphs into a total disruption of your life. Eats up your love like an insatiable demon and forces you to think of the unimaginable.

“I’m always torn between being grateful for the peace and quiet so I can relax from the responsibility/demands for a bit, then the lonely crawls in and takes over.” – Lynn, caregiver to her husband, Len.

Guilt can be a powerful emotion during these times. You long for the times when you felt “happy”. Remember those? Happy is hard to define until you don’t feel it any more. Then you know. You know exactly what is is once its gone. And if you do happen to have a smiley moment, the guilt will jump up and slap you in the face. “How dare you feel anything but duty, loyalty and subservience at this time?”  Laughing? Don’t you dare! The FTD guilt police will be after you!

All the negative emotions you feel – guilt, loneliness, emptiness, are far surpassed by what you are achieving every day as someone who fights this evil disease. Yes, you’re fighting. You know you can’t win, but you will give it a good run for it’s money. Being alone when you are with someone is absolutely soul-destroying. A form of torture in my opinion.

“That was my worst feeling. Being lonely even though my husband was right there.” -Michelle, caregiver for her husband.

Even commenting on something you are watching on TV, or see in the street returns little to no intelligible or understandable response. It’s like solitary confinement, except you are allowed to go out. Those little private jokes you shared belong only to you now.  Even menial things around the house can become a trigger for loneliness. The chores that your other half always did suddenly don’t seem to get done anymore. It takes you a while to notice, but one day, the plants in the yard are all dead, the pool isn’t cleaned, or the laundry isn’t done, or you have no dinner when you get home. It comes as quite a shock, that they don’t remember how to do those things anymore.  It’s not important to them. Not as important as where (and when) their next meal/snack is coming from, or where their money is. How did that happen? Their ability to think of anyone but themselves drives your loneliness. As they withdraw into their FTD world, so do you into yours. You have no choice.

‘The other night our dog started barking. I had to wake up Ian to tell him I thought someone was outside. He ever so slowly got dressed, went to the toilet then strolled out and then asked me what I wanted him to do? I sat alone crying because it made me realise how truly ‘on my own’ I am now.”  – Vicki, caregiver for her husband, Ian.

I know that you know all this if you are or have been a caregiver of someone with FTD. I don’t have any magic answers, but I do have the advantage of hindsight. Although I can’t tell you how not to feel, I can tell you that with each phase and stage of FTD, as your loved one’s behavior and level of withdrawal changes, so will your resilience. Your strength will come from those of us who have gone before you and survived. Think of it as a marathon, with some runners just finishing and some just beginning. You will get to the finish line in the end. It’s not the end you want, but it is an end. You will handle the cramps and blisters along the way, because you are travelling with someone you love and they need you to help them reach the finish line. If you don’t love them, then I admire you even more, because this is not a journey for sissies. This marathon is only for the stout of heart and those with levels of determination that would defy gravity.

The loneliness of the long-distance runner cannot be underestimated. Take heart from the people on the sidelines, cheering you on. They may be people you know, or total strangers, but they are there, waving their flags and handing out cups of water.

As you escape into your quiet world tonight, when the tumult of the day has finally fallen into a calmer place, close your eyes, breathe deeply and exhale the loneliness. Feel it leaving your body and just enjoy the peace. For tomorrow will bring new challenges, new belligerence, new meanness.

You can do it. I know you can.

Breathe.

Spa

Return to the scene of the FTD crime!

Home heartAfter three years in the wilderness (well, not really, but it sounds better than “after three years living somewhere else”). After three years away from my home, last weekend I took the plunge and returned to where it all began. My war with FTD that is.

Seven years ago, my husband was diagnosed with frontotemporal degeneration. We lived together in the home we had shared with our family for the previous seven years. Five years later, he died. Broken down into a myriad of confused pieces by the degeneration of his brain, he slipped away peacefully at the place he was living, ten months after he had left our home for the last time.

Last weekend, I went back. I had driven by, but never been inside since the day I left, about four months after he moved into a care facility. I couldn’t manage his behaviors at home any longer, not and work to support us both too. I left the house because, well, now I’m not really sure why. I just knew I couldn’t stay there. Maybe because I felt so alone, maybe because the house felt too big. I don’t really know. It felt like the right thing to do at the time. I have said several times that I didn’t think I would ever live there again.

But last Saturday, I changed my mind. It’s allowed, right?

I went back to look at the house since the lady who was renting it had moved on to pastures new. I knew some updating would be required, so I went to see just what needed to be done. All week, I had been going back and forth between the choices I had. Do I rent again? Do I sell? Or – do I go back?

Well, I have decided go back.

I am going back to live there because I found that it was not as emotionally disturbing as I thought it would be. Like most anticipated, maybe even dreaded events, it was not nearly as bad as I had imagined. It actually still felt like home. There were a couple of tearful moments, but certainly not the anguish I was anticipating. The tears came from good memories. From fun and funny times. From love. Love for my husband, love for my family. I realized it was not the house that gave me bad memories, but FTD. Home-Heart

FTD was the bad guy, not my home. Not the place where we laughed with friends, played with our grandchildren, relaxed in our pajamas and laughed at the stupid things that noone else would ever find funny.

FTD was the destroyer of all that, not the house. There are no do-overs with FTD. It’s done now, no going back.

But I can go back to the place where I feel at home.

Oh yes, it needs a little makeover and a new hairdo, but that’s good. When it’s done, it will look different. It will be different. A little like me. Changed forever but with the essence of what it is still intact.  My home.

My husband loved our house.  When we relaxed out by the pool, for a long time we had a favorite CD – Crowded House Greatest Hits. Our favorite track was “Don’t Dream It’s Over”. As I drove away from the house on Saturday it came on the radio.

Whatever you believe, the final decision was made and confirmed…..

HeartHome

FTD – No Need To Explain!

I could really write this post in three words –

STOP.  EXPLAINING.  YOURSELF.

But let me elaborate.

By the time your loved one reaches the middle stages of FTD, they are, generally speaking, often beyond comprehension of most of what you are saying. That’s not to say they don’t understand the individual words.But their understanding of what they mean all joined together and in context is very skewed.

Blackadder-Confused-Look

Their grasp on the social niceties for example, is almost non-existent. So asking them to speak quietly, or stop staring will fall on deaf ears most of the time. You see, it’s not that they don’t know what you said, it’s just that they don’t understand why it’s important. They think that they have as much control over their behavior as they always did. And therein lies the problem. They have the ability to make you think that too.

As I have discussed before, we tend to give our loved ones the respect and consideration that we have for the last twenty, thirty or forty years.  It’s a natural thing to do. It’s the same if the FTD’er is your parent. Any relationship based on love and respect falls back on these things during times of stress. You have an invisible understanding that you just don’t do or say certain things. FTD takes that away.  The FTD brain has so many holes caused by the degeneration that appropriate and seemly behavior become a thing of the past. But not to them. Not to your loved one. They behave just as their FTD Taskmaster tells them to. It’s like having that little devil sitting on your shoulder. “Go on, do it!”. But now there is no angel on the other shoulder – their conscience, telling them not to. Everything is fair game. Even to the point of hurting, physically, mentally, emotionally. grotesqueringmaster

The bastard disease is the Ringmaster in the circus that has become your life.

So, if you accept that your FTD’er is no longer capable of deciding what’s best, you must come to the conclusion that you know what is. Yes, I know it’s not the position you want to be in. Deciding someone’s fate is overwhelming. But one of you has to make decisions and that someone has to be you. Here’s the thing. Once you accept that, you must also accept that your decision is final. No do-overs, no “well maybe’s”, no “we’ll see”. You can say those to your children. Your children can tell when you are undecided. But when it comes to decisions for you and your loved one’s safety, you cannot compromise and dither. The ultimate end to this is that you must not stop to explain. Explaining leaves room for choices. You know that your loved one can’t choose. They think they can, but when they do, it’s often a poor choice. Why else do we have advance directives? Because at the time the person makes those decisions, they are have a clear mind and are making rational decisions.

Explanations leave you vulnerable to “No” .

Explanations offer a chance for the person with FTD to make a poor choice.

Explanations answer the “What?” with “Because” and the because will probably be unacceptable.

Because they don’t understand the “Why” or the “How”.

Because FTD has addled their brain and their thoughts can’t get through the tangled mess.

You explain because it makes sense to you.

Because you have done it for years. Because it’s respectful to give the “Why”.

Because you love them.

Yes No

Explanation can cause more confusion and provide fuel for outbursts of defiance. You’re explaining because it makes sense to you. I have said many times before – “Don’t ask -tell” and this tags on to explanation. Don’t ask a question, don’t give an explanation other than “we are going in the car”, or “Sit down. Put on your shoes”. Anything more complicated will illicit either a blank stare or “No”. If they do ask “Why?”, keep it simple. Say “We have to go somewhere”, or “We are going out”. Try to keep these conversations short, keep them busy but don’t hurry them or they will get flustered. Let them put their shoes on/take a shower/walk to the car at their own speed. Your frustration will rub off believe me. Just make sure you allow enough time for slow movement and bite your tongue.

Explaining comes naturally to us. We are accustomed to people needing to know why we want them to do something or what we are talking about. Your loved one with FTD no longer has the capacity to rationalize these things. For them, it’s about the here and now. You may have heard the term “WIFM?” – “What’s In it For Me?”. This is the perfect acronym for your FTD’er. They are not being selfish. Their sense of self is diminishing fast. Selfishness relies on a purposeful action that will benefit only one. FTD brings out instincts in a person that are usually controlled by social mores and respect for others. Filters and inhibitions are eventually so eroded in the FTD brain that thinking of anything other than mere existence is impossible. There comes a point when even that is gone and risky behaviors result. The concern for self-preservation deserts your loved one and it will be up to you to protect them. It’s a jaw-droppingly scary position to hold – Protector of the Vulnerable. But you can do it. You will make all the right decisions. Trust your love and your instinct.

Just don’t explain why.

There is another aspect to the explanations also. In a perfect world, your family would respect and understand why you do the things you do. Sadly, people in your family may not appreciate your now-seemingly bombastic approach to caring for your loved one. If they are not around FTD much, your behavior may seem akin to that of Attila the Hun. Their denial may lead them to the conclusion that you’re a know-it-all control freak, with Hitler-like tendencies. I have to say here that my own experience was not like this at all. My family and friends were nothing but supportive and helpful and for that I am eternally grateful.

Well, to hell with those people if they refuse to accept your explanation, demonstration, literature and.or pleading. They are human yes, but they should respect your decisions. They are not entitled to an opinion unless they are there 24/7, see what goes on in an FTD house and contribute to the s**tstorm that your day can be.This goes for those curious people at the grocery store too. I hear time and again about families who just flatly refuse to accept that it’s as bad as it is. But they don’t ever want to come over to your house and experience it either. I know of many people whose already effed-up lives are further disrupted by constant denial or even obstructive behavior such as encouraging ‘normal’ activities in an person with FTD who cannot possibly understand the why or how.

Don’t explain anything to them once you have come to the conclusion that they are ignoring your advice and wishes. Stop validating your actions with people who are ignoring the inevitable. It’s not worth the energy. They will either come around or they won’t. But you have enough on your plate.

Stop explaining.

When you’re down and confused…….

Love the one you’re with 🙂

FTD – Happy Anniversary, you bastard

wedding photo

Today is the 38th anniversary of our wedding. In 1976, we were bright-eyed and eager to see what life had in store for us. I am so glad we didn’t know that FTD was going to invade our lives and destroy what we had built for thirty-six years.

I cried today. That’s not really unusual. I was sad and my dog brought me his bone. That made me cry. I guess it wasn’t far away, under the surface and that simple act of innocent kindness brought it out. It was then that I realized that our anniversary is still significant to me, even though my husband died two years ago. I realized that nothing –time, distance or circumstances will ever change that. People ask me if I’m dating – “You’re still young!” and look at me strangely when I say that it never crosses my mind and I don’t see a time when it ever will. Spending almost forty years with someone that you love so unconditionally and they you, makes that unthinkable.  The things one has to do and endure when caring for someone with FTD  have somehow made me more detached from reality. I can engage in the stuff of life – fun, laughter,smiles, sadness and joy. But I am so changed by my experience that I am almost a different person entirely than that hopeful, full-of-dreams girl that I was in 1976. People have been on the receiving end of this new person and are sometimes shocked I think, by how different she is from the old me.

FTD destroys lives and dreams. But it never destroyed my love. Somehow, I was able to separate the love from the horror. At times, it was as if everything that was happening was not happening to us. I have written about love and FTD many times. It was a driving factor in my FTD experience.  I cannot imagine how I would have coped without it. My own love for my husband, the love I knew that he still felt for me, even though it was masked by the bastard disease, and the love I had for our family as I witnessed their pain. The journey was like walking a path to a destination you never want to reach. As painful as it is, you know that reaching the end will be even more so. And there is nothing you can do to stop the relentless onward march towards your destiny.

In 1976, I imagined my destiny to be somewhat different. White dress, first waltz, flowers and cake. Handsome husband, first home, fun, fun, fun. He only forgot once, after about 3 years. He remembered after he had dropped me off at work. I got the best bouquet and champagne dinner that day 🙂

A year before he died, FTD made him forget too. The bastard disease created another hole in his brain and our anniversary slipped through. That last anniversary we were together, our son came round with a card for us and my husband was devastated that he had forgotten. So my son gave him the card to give to me. That made him feel better that he thought I thought he’d remembered.  Even in the depths of his confusion, he felt the love. One month later, he moved into his first residential home and ten months after that, he died.

Of course, the thirty-eight years were not all fun, fun fun, even before the FTD. We had challenges, just like everyone does. At first, when FTD came along, we carried on as ‘normal’. As you know, the onslaught is so insidious, it is shocking at times to realize that things have changed. Then suddenly –Bam! Your groom/bride can’t speak properly anymore. Or they’re hiding things, or spending all your money. You are inexplicably broke and getting thrown out of your house. Or you are bailing your loved one of out of jail. Thankfully, those last two things did not happen to me, but they do to someone who cares for a person with FTD. The bastard disease has a blatant disregard for propriety, respect for others or socially acceptable behavior.

When you make those promises -“In sickness and in health”, wedding-rings-on-handswhen you’re twenty years old, you don’t really understand exactly what it is you’re signing up for. So when the ‘sickness’ is FTD, those promises are really put to the test. But for me, it was not something I had to think about. Maybe I have innate qualities that I didn’t know about, I’m not sure. But I really don’t think I did anything heroic, or anything that all of you are not doing for your loved one.

So what is the point of my blog today? Other than catharsis, I wanted to share how FTD has uncovered things about me that I didn’t know before. In 1976, I wasn’t a nurse, wasn’t a mother, wasn’t a wife until October 30th. I was twenty years old. No-one even knew what FTD was then. I’m glad I didn’t. I guess the point of my writing today is to try to impress upon you how important being in the moment is. Usually I try to offer some kind of encouragement and advice about how to handle your own and your family’s emotions amid the turmoil of FTD. I don’t think I can do that today. Because some experiences and emotions are so personal and unique, that to tell you how to handle them would almost be an insult. You are you, I am me. I just told you that I am not the me I was. I am irrevocably changed by experience. You will be too. The transformation has already started. Your metamorphosis into the post-FTD man or woman is already under way. You can’t stop it,  just like you can’t stop the FTD. All you can do is go with it. Watch in wonder as it appears. I wish I could liken it to a beautiful butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. But I can’t. I can’t promise you will be a more beautiful you –outside or inside. But you will be different, that I do know. Your life will emerge as something completely new. Post-FTD, without the stresses and strains of the practicalities of caring for someone with a debilitating, terminal condition, you will probably be baffled as to who and what you are.

I wish I had an answer. I may never know the answer. I don’t even know if there is an answer.  I am full of admiration for those of you who are still doing what I did every day. My heart breaks for you because I know what is to come. Now I know. I didn’t know in 1976, thank goodness. I was able to have a full and happy life and marriage. We had many champagne moments. I am so grateful for that. My life is still full. It’s full of sons and grandchildren and other family members. I have grown closer to all of them as a result of what we went through. Going back to an earlier comment ” Are you dating yet?”, all I can say is –why would I want to expose anyone else to what our family has been through? How could they possibly understand our pain. They weren’t there, they don’t know. It would not be fair to anyone, an outsider if you will,  to expect them to understand.

I make no apology for the somber tone in my post today. It’s a sad day for me. Tomorrow is a new day and I will bounce right back and be the new me again.  These days are a reminder of what once was. Of what I had, what we had and did. So it’s all good. I have wonderful memories. Even some of my FTD memories are good or at least funny. But there are many more non-FTD memories. From 1976 until 2012, it was a terrific ride. From 2012 until today, I have been able to reflect and rebuild.  FTD could not take that away from me. I may have been down, but never out. My husband loved the feisty me. She’s still around as everyone around me will attest. Bastard FTD. Ha! Couldn’t take that away.

My husband loved champagne. We drank it at every opportunity. I will be having some later.

Happy anniversary to us.

love champagne

FTD – The cloak of Invisibility. Now you see me, now you don’t,

cloak of invisibility

Being invisible can have its advantages. You can get away with a lot of things if people can’t see you. Even if they can see you, being an invisible character in the story of life can be advantageous too. Middle-aged people are notoriously invisible. You see, they just don’t fit in with the beautiful people anymore. Wrinkles, sagging flesh, balding heads, droopy boobs and butts – well, they’re just not “de rigeur”. I find it amusing that in a crowded bar or club (which I don’t frequent that often these days), I become part of the decor. There, but not worthy of attention.

Screw that. I don’t care to be visible to the Kim K’s of the world anyway.

FTD is invisible. The only evidence of its presence is behavior. Behaviors that don’t conform to our well-ordered norms. Social morés dictate that most of the actions we see demonstrated by our FTD’ers will make them pariahs to all but the thickest-skinned observers. But when your FTD’er is behaving acceptably, they become invisible too. Another grey-hair in the midst of many.

FTD itself can only be seen by sophisticated technology. Even then, there’s no guarantee. Only after the bastard disease has completely decimated what remains of the person you have loved and cherished for so long can the damage be seen by those who make it their business to look. That’s the physical  damage of course. The damage that has been inflicted on everyone else around that lacy brain is immeasurable. Invisible. Felt only inside the hearts and souls of those that remain.

We remain, but we are also invisible. To everyone but those who are the very closest to us.

Invisible-man-007

The person who has FTD –your wife, husband, lover, friend, parent. They are invisible too. Or rather, the inner workings of their brain are. I firmly believe that there is, on some level, a degree of understanding within the FTD brain. A knowledge that they are here, but not with us. A certainty that they are, like unmanned boats, drifting away from their safe harbor. But, because it is invisible, there is no way to know. This must cause fear. I know it would scare me. Maybe that is what incites the behaviors. I know that the degeneration causes lack of insight and inhibition. I know that FTD takes over the brain like an invading army into an ill-prepared country. But the person? What about them? The very essence of what makes us – well, us. Do they scream for attention? Is that what we hear when we look at the OCD? The persistent stacking/folding/calling out in public/being rude?

Or am I giving them too much credit? Is it simply that FTD has destroyed so much that there is little left to cope? Does FTD destroy the soul? The essence of humanity? I know, such a lot of questions. Usually at this point in the article, I give you a list of possible solutions to your problems. A bulleted paragraph of pointers as to how to handle your life. Huh! Far be it from me to pontificate about your life. Only you are living it. I lived my own private despair and hope that I can share what I learned. Usually.

But today, I am more philosophical. Although that doesn’t really help you does it? How about if I share someone else’s words? A slice of how it was for someone who lived and died with FTD? Dr Bob Fay spoke at an Alzheimer’s conference in London in 2003. Here is an excerpt from his speech:

Pick’s is a sodder. It has changed me in subtle ways that outsiders find very difficult to understand, but are all too apparent to my wife and family, It has cut short my career as a General Practitioner; it has stopped me from driving; it has caused much grief and distress to my family. It has a name, but no known cause. It has a very unpredictable course, and it has no treatment. It’s a sodder, it’s a sodder, it’s a sodder. I am not seeking sympathy, but I hope that by conveying the truth about this disease, from my point of view, from the inside, you may be enabled to understand it better. Dementia has no dignity, no compensations: it continues day by day, year by year, to take and take and take, until death comes as a relief to all.

Dementia brings anxiety, anger and grieving to the sufferer. It may be bravely born, but it is not fun; it is not an acceptable alternative lifestyle. Our experience has been that in fact some psychiatrists, geriatricians and neurologists are fairly ignorant of some of the rare young-onset dementias like Pick’s, and if they have areas of ignorance in those conditions, then I suspect that most of the other health professionals who are involved with dementia sufferers, are similarly lacking in knowledge. That is quite understandable and I am not seeking to belittle, after all I was a GP only 8 years ago who was totally ignorant of any dementia that wasn’t Alzheimer’s.

Incidentally what a very unfriendly word “Dementia” is! Technically I must have been “dementing” for about 10 years. To me the term suggests INSANITY (and the dictionaries agree.) To be demented implies being frantic, overactive, out of one’s mind. I haven’t settled on a better term, but I usually either say I have Pick’s disease or that I have a degenerative brain disease. Sometimes I call myself “an old Dementonian” but then people think I’m claiming to have had an elitist education! I think the general public gets misled by the term dementia”.

You can read the rest of Dr.Bob’s talk at http://www.theatfd.org

Anyway. Invisibility. There’s no bulleted list I can write today. mainly because I don’t really know how to help you handle invisibility. I am invisible too, being a fifty-something person. I don’t have FTD (as far as I know). But I have had the misfortune to have seen the effects of the bastard disease on some of the brightest, most articulate and intelligent brains. Invisibly doing its dirty work, like a glass scalpel.

You can remove the cloak from yourself. You can make sure that the world sees what is happening. That is the only way that the bastard disease will ever be defeated. The sword and shields of love will help us. Love and a determination to make people sit up and listen. Become aware. They can ignore us. They can pretend we are invisible.

But we are here. As more diagnoses take place in our booming generation, as more people demand attention from governments, the CDC, society at large, people will want to know. We can tell them “We’ve been there, done that”. “What do you want to know?” “We’ve been waiting!”.

An invisible force. A veritable treasure chest of information. Resources that we are just beginning to realize are and will be necessary. That’s us.

Throw off the cloak. Speak up. Demand attention. Be visible and loud.

Together we are not invisible.

Minions

FTD – Life in the Past Lane

 

My post today is not really about FTD. More about what has happened in the post-FTD era. Your experience will be vastly different to mine. Perhaps my sharing will help you. But I think it will help me more. FTD has shaped my life in ways that are somewhat indescribable, but I will do my best.

Last September, I had cause to get together with family members and many old friends for the first time since the bastard disease took my husband. I was able to successfully coordinate seeing many people in the space of 2 weeks during a visit back to the UK.

My husband had died a year before and I had not seen most of them in the interim. I expected it would be emotional and it was. More for all of them than me. I had had a whole year in which to begin reshaping my life. They all said I have not changed. But I am changed. I think for the better. I have a life that my husband and I started together. A different life than the one I envisaged six years ago, but still a life. A life that we filled together with stuff, people, and love. Only now I am enjoying it without him.

People never cease to amaze me. Their perception of widowhood is varied. Of course, I am not the only widow they know. There are many women much younger than me who have arrived at widowhood unexpectedly under much more tragic circumstances.

One of the things you ask yourself when newly widowed is “Who am I?” You have been someone’s daughter, wife, mother, sister/son, husband, father, brother your whole life. Figuring out who you’ve become in the interim is not easy.

Then you realize that you haven’t become anyone else. You’re still you. All those little things you never liked about yourself are still there. Ha!

But, here’s the thing. The new you is the old you with a new view on the world. It’s as if you can see things more clearly somehow. When you’re part of a couple, a partnership, you tend to like the same things, move in the same circles. That’s why you’re a couple —right? You even do things just because you know it pleases the other person. When you don’t have to that anymore, it feels weird. You don’t really know what to do.  But then you begin to see things from an entirely different perspective. Instead of seeing the world as one of a pair, and what it means to both of you, a collective being like the Borg, you see it as a single entity. What it means to you, not what it means to us. That’s not to say that when you were part of a couple you didn’t have independent thoughts and opinions. Just that somehow, those things are less important than just being us. Couple on the beach

Of course, you miss all the old things. The sharing, the affection, those small things that were only funny or meant something to the two of you. That happens while they are still alive. But acceptance brings a power from within you. A power that you didn’t even realize you had. It’s the power of you. Not pleasing someone else brings freedom. Not the kind that you would have wished for necessarily. But the freedom to have opinions, make decisions, do things that you may never have even considered before.

Ours was not the kind of relationship where one partner had dominance over the other. Not the kind where either told the other one what to do. It was built on the respect for one another’s feelings and sensitivities that develops over many years of watching and experiencing life’s trials and tribulations together. Years of success and failure, tears and joy. You may not always like your partner, but you always love them. Even when you don’t like their behavior, opinions or decisions. You still love them, if your love is true and unbending.

So the freedom that widowhood brings is bitter sweet. You are free to say, think, do whatever you please. But often you don’t want to. Or you have forgotten how. Or maybe you never even knew.

I went from my parents house to being married, other than a short period where I lived away from home with friends. So complete independence was somewhat of a mystery to me. I had never lived alone, never been financially independent, never owned my own home. Never did any of the things that young, single women take for granted these days.

I was born into an era of building and rebuilding lives that had been irrevocably changed by World War II. My own parents and their families had been affected in all the ways that wars cause to people. They had lost family members, been bombed in their homes and lived off government food rations for years. My paternal grandfather survived the D-Day landings. My maternal grandfather was captured and taken as a prisoner of war for years. My mother never got over that. He was gone during some of her most formative years. She learned to be independent, take care of her little brother while her mother went to work. factory women

In the absence of another provider, there was little choice. Learn how to do it, or live in abject poverty My grandfather was appalled when he returned home after the war that my grandmother knew how to change an electrical plug and do other home repairs. Before that she had been a housewife, relying on the breadwinner to care for her and their children. He wanted to know who (what man) she had in the house to show her how to do all those things. But there was none, she just figured out what she had to do to survive.

When I was born, ten years after the end of the war, things were beginning to improve. There was more food, a better infrastructure and just an overall feeling of hope. The 1950s and 60s were a re-awakening of everything good that had been destroyed for many people.

The fighting spirit instilled in my mother by her parents and their experiences has somehow been passed to me. Whether it’s genetic or not, I’m not sure. My grandfather survived three years of starvation and god-knows-what in prisoner-of-war camps in Italy and Germany. He never spoke of it, but whatever it was that kept him going is most certainly present in my mother and has been passed on to me.

I am not comparing the experience I went through in caring for my husband and his dementia for five years to my grandfather’s imprisonment. Not at all. But I came to understand a different kind of incarceration. One of the spirit. The kind that beats you down so many times, you often wonder if you can survive it. It’s not a physical beating; there are no visible scars. It is emotional bruising that takes a long time to get used to. I say that because it doesn’t go away. You get used to it, but it doesn’t go away. It’s like a permanent deathmark. A port wine stain of the soul. No surgery could take it away.

You feel like your port wine stain makes you stand out. Being by yourself in the midst of a crowd of people, feeling different, is a strange experience. I wouldn’t call it loneliness. I don’t feel lonely. I miss my husband, of course I do. I miss the familiarity, the everyday grind of normality. But I often wonder what we would be doing if things had taken a different course. I don’t dwell on it too long because it’s not a very productive way to think. It’s hard to describe your thought process when experiencing losing someone close. It’s different for everyone of course. No one had what you had. No one shared what you shared.

It’s so easy to slip into Clichéland —“I’ve lost half of me”, “I feel like part of me is missing”. All true of course, but so inadequate when trying to describe how you really feel. I’ve read many books, articles, newsletters sent by Hospice and the funeral home for the first year after my husband died. They are well-intended and actually sometimes food for thought. But still, there is this indescribable hole inside me that defies illustration.

Truth is, sometimes you forget what’s happened. You get on with the day-to-day stuff. Your lost one pops into your mind frequently of course, but you have to work, sleep, eat, see people, so the experience becomes even more personal. Even less worthy of sharing. Because really, no one want to know. They don’t want to see it, hear about it, have to remember it. I’m not being self-pitying here, just realistic. People tell me their own woes. Hospital visits, deceased parents, sick kids. It’s all just life.

I accept life. I accept that shit happens. Most people fall into two categories. They were part of what happened. They saw the anguish, the pain, the screaming, the tears. Or they weren’t. So the only point of reference they have is how it affected them. How close they were to the proceedings. How much they were involved. Other than that, it’s all mine.

Seeing people who remind me of my marriage and life with my husband is often painful. But there is a kind of numbness that exists. Psychoanalysts would probably say that it is my brain trying to protect itself from the pain. But I have faced the pain. It’s there. I can’t ignore it. I have embraced it just like someone who has to inject themselves with insulin every day. I accept that it is a part of me that will never go away. Having pain doesn’t mean I can’t be happy with my lot in life.

It is what it is. An overused saying but oh so true. So, as my life is not what I envisaged before the bastard disease took hold of it, I don’t really envisage any more. I take moments, days and keep them in my new memory bank. I have put the other one onto a virtual jump drive in my mind, where I take it out frequently and look at it. Sometimes every day, sometimes less often. It’s like a photo album that catalogues all my experiences for thirty-eight of the first fifty-six years of my life. For all I know, I could have another fifty-six left to go yet. I’ll need another jump drive.jump drives

I have other albums from before. From happy childhood days. From teenage years. I look at those too. But this new album that I’m working on; this new jump drive that is my widowed life is a little different. Because the pictures are superimposed on the pictures from all the other albums. So, sometimes, the pictures are out of focus. Blurry. Unclear as to what they mean or symbolize.

I quite like it. The blurriness. I can see what’s happening, I can see what happened before. Some people around me can only see this album. Only see today’s pictures. It takes a special kind of vision to be able to sort the images from one another.

So, where to from here? I’m not making any plans. I like the day-to-day. I find that when you make plans, something usually comes along that presents another path. Sometimes it’s better than the original plan. I like that. And if it’s not, well, so be it, It’s just another file on the jump drive.

FTD was an experience in my life. Not one I would have chosen, but one that came along anyway. “It” took away what I had become, what my husband was to me. Then, eventually, it took his physical entity. If you are the type of philosopher that believes everything happens for a reason, then I am still waiting to find out what that reason is. But it’s not been that long. I can wait. Until FTD came along, my life, our life, was ticking along quite nicely, just like everyone else’s. Ups, downs, but mostly in between.

That’s life. That’s how mankind has moved through thousands of years of existence. Doesn’t help when life/FTD/cancer/people step in and change it, but no one ever said that you could have everything you wanted.

That’s life.