During the last year of Jeff’s life, we sometimes talked about what I was going to do after he was gone. We knew I couldn’t stay in that house for very long — there was nowhere around there for me to work, and I couldn’t pay the expenses on my own — so we knew a move was necessary. (We couldn’t have known how short a time I’d have afterward to figure things out, but it turns out I was evicted almost immediately. I have no idea why except that the landlady seemed to think I had designs on her husband. For some reason, widows get a bad rap; she’s not the only one to think we are a rapacious lot, looking to replace what we lost with someone else’s husband.)
Jeff wanted me to go stay with my father because he said I’d have a place to stay where I’d be safe, but I absolutely refused to even consider the matter. My parents and perhaps even my brothers had always taken for granted that I would be the “designated daughter,” the one who would take care of her parents when they couldn’t take care of themselves, and having had to cater to my father at various times in my life, I truly dreaded the possibility of doing it for the rest of his life. As long as Jeff was alive, I was safe from what I thought would be a hell, but when his life drew to an end, the dread returned. (Strangely, I never considered that I would grieve. I figured I’d be sad for a while, but would continue on without a blip. What a shock it was to find out what grief really was!)
Even after Jeff pointed out that taking care of my father wouldn’t be forever, I still refused to consider the matter. It wasn’t until the end, when Jeff was comatose, that I changed my mind and told him I would go stay with my father. A few hours later, Jeff died. Apparently, even unconscious, he was worried about what would happen to me and couldn’t leave until he knew I’d be okay.
My father was 93 at the time, and though he was doing well, he really did need someone to stay with him. He was terrified of the night terrors he sometimes got as well the sundowners hallucinations he’d experienced during a hospital stay. The two of us worked things out. Although he would have liked me to wait on him, I wanted him to be as self-sufficient as possible, so I talked him into continuing the routine he’d adopted after my mother died. And he did keep it up until he couldn’t any longer.
Those years seemed interminable at the time, made worse by the arrival of my dysfunctional older brother, but as Jeff had said, the stay with my father wasn’t forever. He died four and a half years after my arrival.
Today is the seventh anniversary of my father’s death, and it perplexes me to think he’s been gone more years than I stayed with him. How did all those years slip by? The hardship of my time with him (though admittedly, it wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be) now seems like a hiccup in my years of grief over Jeff.
It’s odd to think that those men — Jeff, my father, my older brother — who were so significant to my life are now gone. Odd, too, to think of how each of those deaths has contributed to my current well-being.
Confusing thoughts for a confusing day.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.