A Way in the Wilderness

The first year of widowhood is filled with “firsts.”

Some are predictable: holidays, birthdays, trips. Others are less so. I walk naively into a setting, a day, an event, and the full force of loss is mine again. Suddenly I am beneath a crashing wave, tossed about in the disorientation that accompanies acute grief. Every cell in my body cries out to breathe the air of life that was once ours.

I remind myself there is no way out but through. Being in the turbulence and then righting myself—again and again—is how I make my way.

The way feels familiar. During the disease, grieving accompanied each loss. But none was coupled with the aching absence of presence this final one is.

Still, perhaps there are lessons.

Alzheimer’s destructive path called for continuous adaptation. As Dale’s confusion increased, the world of thoughts and ideas receded and created space for the flow of life in the present. Of necessity, we learned new ways of being. In this sense, we were nourished by loss, like a seedling growing from a “nurse log.” Out of death came life—a new way of being “us”—again and again.

We did not do this alone. Countless expressions of Love—seen and unseen—nourished…watered…sustained us.

Surely that same Love holds me now. And I am beginning to trust that even from the depths of grief, something new can be born.

Signs of this abound…and invite hope. Seeds give way to tiny plants as they awaken from dormancy. Buds burst open on branches that appear lifeless. Wings break forth from dry, motionless cocoons.

May my mourning tears provide that which is needed for new growth. May these dark places, like warm soil around a seed, provide nourishment for my life.

“I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.”
Isaiah 43:19

Still

The disease keeps moving, whether I am aware or not. Whether I accept it or not. That is its nature.

Its gradual movement creates an illusion of stillness: like the subtle changes in daylight that go unnoticed until suddenly (it seems) it is dusk…or like fog rolling across a lake until the water is covered and the shoreline invisible.

Photo: Norma Sessions

So it is with Dale’s latest changes.

Suddenly (it seems) he is sleeping more hours than he is awake; content to sit because standing and walking are challenges; leaving food items on his plate that he once ate with pleasure.

This transition feels shocking to me, despite the length of our journey and all the signs along the way. As I look back, I can see dusk approaching…the fog rolling in. I can see the gradual movement to where we are now.

But still, my whole being responds: How can this be? How can it be that our daily walks together have ended? How can it be that Dale is no longer my dinner-and-a-movie partner each evening? How can this be?

As I inch towards acceptance, I look up to see that there are guides along our way: hospice CNAs who bathe Dale with skill and compassion; chaplains who sit with us, pray with us; caregivers who bring smiles, experience, and helping hands; fellow travelers who know this place well and listen with deep understanding; friends and family who express love in myriad ways, lifting our hearts and assuring us that we are not alone.

And still, Dale is here…in his smiles and laughter, in moments of recognition and connection, even amid periods of intense confusion and long hours of needed rest. Still. Here.

“Still is still moving to me
And it’s hard to explain how I feel
It won’t go in words but I know that it’s real
I can be moving or I can be still
But still is still moving me
Still is still moving to me.”

From Dale’s favorite Willie Nelson song: “Still Is Still Moving To Me”