I am enveloped in a fog, a mist; I reside in a magical place, a place between two worlds. One commonly spoken of as reality, and another place, the dream world where I can once again live with Peg.
It is dusk now, figuratively in the sense that I am coming to the end of my own life, and actually dusk, a forbidden time for me. Dusk can be a time of incredible beauty or a time of great sorrow. A time for crying and for dying. A time of gratitude for a day and a life well lived. Or a time spent reflecting on a great loss.
The yin and the yang, happiness and hopelessness, richness and loss. A jumble of emotions, which overload my neural networks and cause me great confusion. A place of in-between.
I have been living here, in this place of in-between for months. Not fully being able to understand what happened to me, what happened to us, the us forged over a lifetime of living in each other’s company.
It is worse now. Four months from when she died and my daily grieving is unrelentless. Everything I think about, even my dreams, trigger my realization that Peg is gone. The worst times are when I awake from a dream state where I actually can hear her and feel her body next to mine, exactly as it was, perfect in every detail as if I had gone back to the morning when we both got up to start the day, the day when she died.
Grieving upsets my whole body, not just my mind. My body has been finely tuned, tuned to operate on a schedule learned and reaffirmed from all of my daily experiences. Tuned to live everyday with Peg. With Peg’s death, my mind and body suffered a terrible shock. Now nothing is as it was before. A huge part of me, the part that was Peg, is now missing. I can barely function with the pathetic part, me, that still exists.
It is common wisdom that the longer our loving relationship was, the greater the depth of despair.
Looking through the research online offered for the bereaved, I found a number of similarities to my experiences and the experiences of other widowers. Confusion, chest pains, headaches, heart aches, shortness of breath, depression, unexplained body pains, weight loss, weight gain, nightmares, not enough sleep, too much sleep. The list is endless, all caused by a mind/body combination seriously compromised by a great trauma. The trauma of losing my dearly beloved.
In the first month after her death I was stunned, falling into a condition of doing the daily chores and finishing the needed paperwork caused by her death, I was on auto-pilot. Then as weeks wore on, I was forced to create a new daily routine without Peg. The persistent reminders of our life together and the realization that she was never coming back got the best of me.
One day the pain in my chest became very great and would not subside. I knew I didn’t have heart trouble, for in the past I kept a regular schedule of physical exams, no heart abnormality was found. I began to believe it was the well-known broken-heart syndrome, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Although serious, I read the symptoms tend to lessen over time. I decided not to pursue it with a cardiologist, preferring to wait longer and call my doctor.
My doctor, a man younger than I but experienced with the elderly, returned my call promptly. I told him of my plight. My doctor knows I prefer not to take prescription medicines unless I absolutely have to. He prescribed a medicine used to treat surgery anxiety and pain. The medicine did not have to be taken every day to be effective. I could use it on demand. The downside is that it is a powerful sedative and I shouldn’t drive or expect to be a productive writer while it is in my system. One pill a day when needed is the prescription. It is very effective. I take it on occasion when my grief becomes overwhelming.
I know what I am doing, I am buying time to allow me the needed consideration of what has happened. Time to piece together a new life, a life without Peg.
It is 4:30 a.m., I awake fully expecting to hear and feel Peg lying next to me. It is not to be, she is gone and never coming back. I burst into heaves of crying, tears upon tears, sob after sob without any breaks until I am finally spent of that memory, which triggered such strong emotion.
I lie in bed not wanting to get up, time passes, 5:30, then 7, and my Protestant work ethic prods me from my tear-stained pillow and the warm comfort of our bed. It will be another day of very little productivity and great pain. The medicine works well, almost too well. My chest pain subsides and I enter into a quiet, peaceful wakefulness.
I talk to Peg, asking her to wait for me. I will be along soon enough. I ask for her forgiveness for any transgression and pain I may have caused her during our time together. No answer is immediately forthcoming, I wish it was. These are the questions I will have to answer on my own, making the pain of her loss much greater.
To those of faith in the power of the Universe, it is known the answers may not come immediately, nor in a form I would expect, but the answers will come over time. Time is one of the problems. The first two years after a great loss is a dangerous time for widowers. The odds of taking my own life to be with Peg are very high. The thought of being with her considerably outweighs the life of pain I am enduring now.
Several years ago, Peg and I put together a plan of yearly spending in case we needed help several times a week or daily to keep us in our home as long as we could. Those plans and the proper papers to allow an orderly transfer of joint assets to the survivor allowed us to create a budget to pay for the needed help. We have been fortunate in having a number of qualified people willing to serve us if the time and need came. Well, that time and need is here.
The way I feel now, grieving so intently, I wouldn’t be able to care for myself easily without help. I do not want to burden our children or our friends with what has become my daily needs.
Our world is in the grip of a global pandemic, Covid-19, greatly complicating my basic needs of shopping and housekeeping and taking care of the cats and our goat, let alone satisfying my need for contact with another person. The nights are the worst, I am alone.
When Peg had her stroke in October of 2020, the Covid-19 lockdown had been lifted at the hospital, I was able to be with her in the ICU and arrange hospice. I came to the realization Peg would not want to live with her considerable infirmities caused by her stroke. Peg’s health power stipulated she did not want extraordinary health care intervention. Peg would rather die in the comfort of her home with her beloved cats, her children and me.
Peg passed away within four days of bringing her home. Still, I ask myself daily if there was anything I could have done, in retrospect, that would have created a different outcome for Peg. These are the questions that make my grieving so difficult as well as the constant vision and remembrance of Peg’s last hours.
During our fifty-two-year relationship, we were together most of the time, except for nights when I traveled for business or the few times I indulged in a hobby where I would need to stay away overnight. We were always together, which included the fact we slept in the same bed for our entire relationship.
Peg and I often discussed the cases of elderly couples dying within hours of each other. We felt we were always connected to each other’s hearts. I seemed to know Peg’s thinking intuitively without asking. In our bed during the night, I was awakened before Peg moved around in bed. She would ask, “Did I wake you?” “No,” I would reply. “I was already awake.” Which was the truth, I had anticipated the change in Peg’s natural sleeping rhythm even as I was sleeping.
In a study done by Emilio Ferrer, a UC Davis psychology professor who conducted a series of studies on couples in romantic relationships, he found that couples connected to monitors measuring heart rates and respiration get their heart rates in sync, and they breathe in and out at the same intervals. This fact was important to me when I read this quote from Mimi Guarneri, MD, “Couples at night, their heart rhythm goes into a synchronized pattern, which raises some very interesting issues. What happens when that pattern is broken? Or it’s not there?”
Peg is no longer here with me. Not only is the synchronized pattern broken, no familiar pattern exists for me. I am broken, trying desperately to make a future out of the torn remnants of our past.