Ch.205 Three Grieving Men
I, like many men, have usually preferred talking with women, especially if the topic involved sharing emotions as against opinions. However, there have been several exceptions to this generalization, men with whom I could “emote” comfortably. My twin brother Don, of course, always, my brothers Art and Brad occasionally and more so since Pat died, my recently deceased friend Howard, my long-time friend and business partner Ed, my anger management colleague Rich (with whom I share “friendlies” since we both like soccer).
Lately, though, I have developed a particularly meaningful relationship with two men, Richard and Jerry. All three of us have had or still have trusted our dementia-afflicted wives to the caregivers at Azura Memory Care Center. Richard’s wife Judy still resides there; Jerry’s wife Betty died at Azura just last week; as you know, my wife Pat passed away last July, almost a year ago, after living at Azura about a year.
At 79, I’m the youngest of our group; Richard is 80, Jerry 92. Richard and Jerry are retired psychologists; I am a retired social work counselor. Richard had consulted at our mental health clinic several years ago; Pat and I ran into him at a department store just after Pat had been diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia. Pat told Richard of her diagnosis. “My wife Judy has Alzheimer’s,” he responded, and called her over to say hello. We began getting together as a foursome, and then a threesome, and now a twosome, as Pat and then Judy finally needed more care than we could provide at home.
In the meantime, Richard introduced me to Jerry and Betty just as Betty was weakening to the point she needed institutional care. Jerry placed her in Azura and the three us of began meeting for a weekly lunch. Our discussions are wide-ranging, covering politics, sports, apple orchards (Jerry still prunes his hundreds of trees) and, most importantly, grief. Until last week I was the only one of us whose spouse had died, while Richard and Jerry still suffered through watching their partners steady declines. We have been each other’s witnesses, sharing our individual pains while embracing the universality of loss.
Yesterday, four days after Betty died, the three of us met for breakfast. Not knowing if Jerry needed to focus upon his grief or have some relief from it, Richard and I let Jerry set the tone; he told us that he would take Betty’s ashes back to her Kansas homeland, that one of his children was with him and other family members would soon arrive; he teared up a couple times. Once again, we discussed politics, sports, apple orchards and, just enough, grief and loss.
Let me return to the concept of being witnesses for each other’s grief. At one level each person’s grief is individual and can never be fully shared. But grief has a universal aspect to it as well, the gut pain that accompanies the breaking of a loving bond created and reinforced over decades of marriage. Jerry, Richard, and I have been married for over 150 years collectively, but now we live alone. That shared loneliness has created a deep bond, one for which the word “friendship” is too weak.