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Moving out of our family home: Part 2

This story is a continuation of “Moving out of the family home: Part 1.

The day dawned overcast and humid, a chilly 52 degrees. Our usual marine layer socked us in. The clouds would clear by mid-morning. Today we would move Robert to Daylight Assisted Living and Memory Care.

My FMLA had ended three weeks before. I wasn’t ready to go back to work and wondered if I would ever be. Robert’s illness had ruptured our lives. The anticipated adventures of our senior years had been replaced with a kind of irredeemable mental chaos. I walked through life like a vacant, hollow person in a warzone, trying to make sense of this turn of events.

Why did this happen to us? Could I have done anything differently? No, of course not. I did not control the course of Robert’s illness. I understood this intellectually, but nothing could relieve my confusion. Life is not fair. I might as well have asked, “Why not us?”

Extending my leave

Jude, my friend and colleague in HR, had graciously advocated for and secured a fresh option for extending my absence. I could take another 12 weeks off, without pay, and still return to my job in mid-July. This would give me the time I needed to place Robert in memory care and figure out my next steps. My leadership team expected me to return, but Jude understood my path might not be a straight line back to work. 

Jude had taken many months leave the year prior after his son was seriously injured in a freak accident. He knew that life doesn’t always turn out as we plan. He was cheerful and conspiratorial when he explained with a laugh, “Your RSUs will continue to vest while you’re on leave. There is no reason to tender your resignation just yet.”

Staging the change

Three bags of clothes were sitting by the front door ready to be loaded for the trip across town. I hoped that four pairs of pants, four sets of pajamas, seven T-shirts, and several sweaters would get Robert through each week until laundry day. If need be I could bring him more. 

Robert’s robe, a light jacket, and a heavier coat, still on their hangers, were draped across the couch. I packed up several boxes of supplies: toiletries, shower accessories, a couple of place settings for his kitchenette, a laundry basket, and transparent bins for storing his clothing in his new closet. I’d already loaded his bedside table into my Camry. New Amazon boxes of his Echo Dot and Fire tablet were slipped into its drawers. 

Robert’s notes and books were neatly stacked in another bag, secured between boxes on the back seat of my car. Photos for Robert’s walls were carefully tucked into a grocery bag along with the Command Strips we’d use to hang them. Daylight Memory Care would never be his home. Robert would only ever be a visitor. He might live another two, or perhaps 10, years and eventually, we’d need to repair any marks left in his wake. I wanted that eventuality to unfold as seamlessly as possible. I couldn’t imagine doing this again.

The final review

I finished packing everything into the car. With the front door staging area empty, I took one last look at Robert’s now gutted office. There were no clothes spilled across the bed he napped on. The walls were empty of his beloved photos. Evidence of Robert was gone. He would never be back.

I could not believe this was happening. Yes, I had packed and moved his things. This was the path I had selected as the best option for Robert and me. But the unfolding of this option felt so very wrong, so out of order. It didn’t make sense to me. How could my husband be moving without me?

A surreal experience

Time to go. Robert would spend a few hours at Maddie’s house while we readied his Daylight room for move-in. I gently pulled him off the couch away from his beloved Seinfeld, and walked him to the car. He gazed appreciatively at a couple of passersby and shared an enthusiastic hello. 

Robert did not understand what we were doing or where we were going. My eyes welled up as I leaned across his body to fasten his seat belt and shut the passenger door. I walked around to the driver’s side, took a deep breath, and sat down beside him. I patted his knee, forced a smile to my lips, and said, “Now we’re going to Maddie and Trent’s place for a few hours. Maddie and I have some errands to run, but Trent has lunch waiting. You’ll get to play with Lincoln! Won’t that be nice?”

2 thoughts on “Moving out of our family home: Part 2”

  1. Dearest Sharon. Thank you for writing the painful truth of your experience. I have so appreciated reading all of your blog entries, but this entry has left me sobbing, as I re-live my own husband’s departure from our home to memory care. Lem is quite a bit older than I, almost 90, we have had 28 years together in this second marriage. Thank you for being able to share the very moments of your experience, your dilemma, your deep pain in losing Robert. I, too, know the moments of looking back, into the room where my husband was. Can it be true that he will not ever be there again? Impossible. Devastating. I sob, remembering his departure. In the house, every thing reminds me of his presence. Simple things: I see the mustard container and I think of him, because he used mustard on many things. I see the place mats and know that he never set the table without place mats. EVERYTHING brings me memories of our life together. Every squirrel on the deck, every ray of light across the room reminds me of all the moments we shared for 28 years, in this, our second marriage. The space in the rooms of our home seem now too large. I cannot fill the space. We shared the air, the views of the hills, the stillness of every moment together. He was gentle. Easy to be with, I loved him every day, had empathy for his memory loss. AND yet, I was living my life for him, in a way similar to what you describe. Every day the same, at home. It was like living in a bubble, together but alone. It was like the movie “Ground Hog Day”, the days repeating themselves over and over, seeing that this would be true for more years to come. After 7 years of my gradually taking on all the duties of our two lives, my grown children and some friends encouraged me to re-engage my own life, my work. At age 77, I am still finding my way into my own full life again with Lem in memory care. I had noticed that I was crying less after 10 months, able to hide my tears while BEING WITH HIM. (I hate saying that I was “visiting” him!!) But, Sharon, this entry into your BLOG, you’re seeing Robert’s space as he left your home, has set me to sobbing again. Thank you for sharing the truth of your living. There are no good solutions to losing one’s sweetheart to dementia. Guilt, shame, grief follow my letting my husband go, even though he is in a beautiful place with the attentive support of his children. He has thoughtful attentive care with 5 other residents, he has his children nearby, but I am filled with grief. My pain lies in imagining that he is missing his home, missing his life here with me. It makes me wonder if death is easier than this prolonged, gradual loss of one’s sweetheart. I see how you, Sharon, struggled for years. Thank you for being so skillful in your sharing this.

    1. Peggy, thank you for your eloquent thoughts and for sharing your own journey. I’m especially struck by your comment…”AND yet, I was living my life for him, in a way similar to what you describe. Every day the same, at home. It was like living in a bubble, together but alone.” That’s beautifully said. So true. Every day the same, together but alone. A very lonely place to be. I’m glad you had the support and strength to resume your own life. Take care, my friend.

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