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By Jeannine Brenner
The house is empty. It is the time of day when loved ones come together - to unwind and be comfortable. But the companionship that comes from sharing the daily concerns, anxieties, and little pleasures over the evening meal has been replaced by the solitude of reading a book while eating the other half of a left-over sandwich. As darkness settles in, the nightly routine of preparing my husband for bed has been ended – no teeth to be brushed, no shoes and socks to be removed, no lift to push to transfer him into bed.
The room that once appeared cluttered with a special bed and a host of rehabilitation necessities has been repainted and refurnished. The bathroom counter no longer holds a multitude of pill bottles and medicines. But I feel a certain stabbing ache when I open the drawer where the familiar grooming items were once placed. I have taken great pains to remove the reminders of the care that took place in this room during the five years following my husband’s stroke. Nevertheless, the unexpected sight of some article will prompt a memory to surface, and unbidden tears will come.
Yet in spite of the pain there is a sense of tranquility. While the house is empty and still, there are also no interruptions with calls for help – help to go to the bathroom, help to get on the wheel chair, help to be taken outside or given meds. Sleep at night is undisturbed. Mornings are unhurried. There are no frustrating demands and no irritability triggered by unalterable physical limitations. There are no care givers to contact or doctor appointments to keep, no therapy schedules to follow, no transportation or day care to arrange. I enjoy the peace.
I can make phone calls, see friends, or enjoy visits with family without the burden of guilt over not constantly being available. I can savor the simple pleasure of a cup of tea without jumping up to respond to some real or imagined need. There is a freedom - a freedom to rekindle friendships and to enjoy new people and new activities. This freedom is good. It is pleasant.
But there is also an empty space in my heart. Our hopes, simple as those expectations might have been, are no more. It is not being alone that hurts. I am not afraid, nor do I dislike the quiet house. But I miss my lifelong companion. After almost fifty years of being together, in spite of handicaps and the physical and mental deterioration, his presence brought me joy and happiness. True, sometimes I complained about the constraints of care giving, but it was what Ihad chosen to do, and now I no longer have the option of making that choice.
What is there to fill the empty void It is not mere talk that I crave. It is the closeness of the one who has been with me for all of my adult life – who fathered my children, who gave me encouragement and who held my hand when I felt I had lost my way. Could such a relationship ever be shared with anyone else No, for I have had a love that was good – not perfect – but a love that was uniquely my own, one that no other love could ever replace.
But wait! There is another love - someone who knows my every weakness but continues to love me without reservations. This love will hold and comfort me, lifting me up when I falter. He is the creator of all that is, the one who planned for me to be. From his love I can never be separated, not even by death. He is the one who can make this solitude a precious gift. In my aloneness, I give thanks that I am not alone, for I have a friend who will never leave or forsake me. He is my loving God and Father.
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