Charles and I were married for 53 years before he passed, alone, in the Alzheimer’s wing of the nursing home. I am now living in my daughter Kaitlin’s house; I don’t want to be here and I’m sure they feel the same. I don’t blame them. I’m mourning more the loss of my independence than my husband. I’m 93 and I’ve had enough. It is time for me to die.
Charles and I raised our family in Maine, we were “tough old birds” our children used to say. But, life brings us nothing but surprises, change found us when we weren’t looking. We were getting older, Charles had gotten himself into a car accident, they took his license away, things were very different now.
We put our house up for sale, even though our children were upset, Charles insisted on moving to Independent Living. I didn’t want that but I had no choice. Not back in those days.
We lived first in Harrison House. It was a white building with a lovely garden. Charlie and I used to sit and admire the pink tulips and the big red rose bush. warm season. When Charles was still well and he could walk, with a cane, he would steal a red rose and give it to me. I would be scared he would get caught but he would just laugh and say “Heck, we’re payin’ for it”and we would laugh. When it got cold we would still be in the sun, with our puffy, blue jackets and our red plaid wool blanket on our laps.
After several months I noticed Charles acting a bit odd but I ignored it. He had just had his accident fairly recently and really what isn’t odd in old age? We forgot things, we misplace things. Getting old is nobody’s friend. I would cover for him when the children came to visit. We taught our children to be strong so I had to be strong, until I couldn’t anymore. I had hidden my feelings so long that they burst like the cold waters gushing out of the levees. Finally, I told them the things their dad was doing and they insisted their Dad see a neurologist. I postponed it twice. Finally, begrudgingly, our daughter Kaitlin forced us to go. She was with me when after all the tests, the doctor uttered the words: Moderate-Late Stage Alzheimer’s. Kaitlin gasped but I knew. I had always known.
He deteriorated rapidly. Once he got violent and struck me, they moved Charles to the nursing home in the Alzheimer’s wing next to where I lived. I stayed in our old room, alone. Charles recognized me once in a while and he would have a good few minutes on and off. The last time the grandchildren visited him he remembered them and I told their parents I did not want the grandchildren to ever come again. I wanted them to remember their grandpa as he was. A living memory. It was the least I could do.
Sometimes he would act like a baby other times he would throw things at me and and talk crazy. Who was this person? I had difficulty remembering he was my Charlie but he wasn’t. He had completely forgotten who I was and would lash out at me, calling me “bitch woman” and calling me “evil.” “I’ve heard it said that in youth we learn, in age we understand but that’s not always the case. Oh no, not really. I made huge mistakes when I was old, more than when I was young. I pretended he was alright when I knew he wasn’t. I should have stuck up for myself like the girls do these days and never have sold the darn house. I hadn’t learned a thing and I should have. I knew about Charlie’s illness long before the doctor diagnosed him but I refused to acknowledge it. Had I brought him to the doctor earlier he could have been on medicine to help him. I was an old fool, just a plain old fool. Getting old is the worst of your nightmares times ten thousand. Believe me, I know.
I used to have my life and oh, how I loved it. Independence is such a huge part of being alive, you may not realize that but it’s true. I can no longer drive. I stay in my daughter’s room, most times. On some Sundays, we visit the cemetery where we buried Charles. He was a fine man for many years and he had a terrible, terrible illness that changed him to someone else. I will always love that man I married but we buried a shell of a man who was not my husband. That was a completely different person, a stranger, that man was not my Charlie.