Ch. 158 Heartache
July 28, 2022.
Several weeks ago, I agreed to a request from Marian, a social worker at Mayo Clinic in Eau Claire, to speak at an ethics workshop for social workers. The topic was “ethical issues with dementia care.” She also invited my friend Richard Fuhrer, a retired psychologist whose wife Judy has Alzheimer’s disease. Marian wanted social workers to hear from us, both retired human services professionals, about the care our partners were receiving. I could have begged off, but I decided to show up even though Pat’s service and burial had been just a few days before. I thought I could handle it.
Richard and I both struggled to get through our talk. We each briefly cried several times, with Richard taking over for me and vice versa when one of us couldn’t continue. The attendees were kind and respectful, which helped.
That evening I became very anxious. I couldn’t stop shivering inside. And then, the next morning, I felt pure anguish. My stomach hurt; my lungs felt heavy; my heart ached. This must be the real thing, I thought, the moment when deep grief pushes past the excitement generated by all the activity during the period between Pat’s death and her service/burial. I felt great pain, almost as much as at the moment Pat died, and perhaps an even more profound despair. Now my body finally realized that Pat was gone forever, and it was sending that message to my brain.
Not knowing what to do with this pain, I turned to the words of Viktor Frankl, Nazi death camp survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl described how he vividly envisioned his wife encouraging him to live through torture and starvation. He believed that she helped him survive, saying: “The salvation of love is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.”
And so, I turned to a picture of Pat and asked her to help me survive the pain of losing her. I tried to listen to her voice, soft and musical, letting her comfort me. I wasn’t completely successful, though. It was as if I wanted to feel her presence so badly that I partly blocked the feeling of that presence. Still, Pat did comfort me; she told me she’d always be with me, in my heart and soul. And that was just enough… just enough to trade hope for despair, “be it only for a brief moment.”