These few heartfelt words are written for all the hundreds of people who, like me, have been unable to be with the person they love at a time when they most need us. In April 2020, my husband Bill was admitted to hospital after several falls in the house, suddenly and inexplicably being unable to stand or walk. He was then moved to a care home, organised by the hospital team.
After 33 years, I found the empty house quite devastatingly sad, and the situation a hundred times worse by being unable to visit him. I worried then, and still do now, that because of his dementia, he doesn’t know where he is and he won’t understand why I am not with him. Alone in the house and with so much time on my hands, I have found it heartbreaking not to be able to be with him as his dementia is taking him away from me.
He is lucky, though, to have a telephone in his room and now, four months later, I have accepted the fact that it is futile – and perhaps even unkind – to try to bring him back to reality. Instead, I try to follow and share whatever experience he is having at the time of our chats. He is often ‘travelling’ and when he is stranded at an airport or a railway station, I tell him just to wait where he is and I will call a taxi, If, on the other hand, he sounds really anxious, I suggest that he might be a little muddled, and ask him if would he like me to put him straight? He always says ‘yes please’ and seems relieved to learn that he is safe.
I feel, too, that my conversations with him are important in terms of keeping his speech going, and his talking has most definitely improved in the last few weeks. At home Bill used to do all the shopping and cooking and was often busy in the kitchen. In the evening, he would play Patience on his computer or Bridge with friends, and of course we had each other for company. I worry therefore that alone in his room in the nursing home, he has nothing to occupy his hands. I have therefore taken in one or two bits and pieces for him to ‘fiddle with’ – some from a toy shop, which of course raises the issue of not wanting to be patronising.
With the wonderful care the nursing home is giving him I feel he is finally settling into his new world and I am praying that his dementia is to some extent shielding him from the undignified aspects of his personal care.
As for me, I have been looked after by three guardian angels, my daughter, my step-daughter and my God-daughter, and no-one could have had more support. I have also come to accept that most of my tears have been for me – for having to come to terms with living alone, and for the awful realisation that the husband I love so much will not be coming home.