Ultimately, the time comes to let go

My blood pressure dropped from 170 to 130 when my husband died.

“You’ve been under a lot of stress,” said my doctor, who had been monitoring that blood pressure as it rose steadily over the summer. “Let’s take it again.”

This time, it was 123.

I know all about stress. People who are not in the newspaper business don’t realize how much stress is involved in meeting deadlines every day. An occasional dream for me is suddenly realizing it’s 11 a.m. (my deadline on an afternoon daily for many years) and I haven’t got my main story written yet. I have never missed a deadline. Never.

I have been witness to stress in women who contacted me in person, on the telephone and by mail, who were or had been in the same situation I was, watching your husband die — some at home, some in nursing homes.

“I took care of my husband at home,” one woman told me, “and there came a time when I suffered burnout. I didn’t know if I could go on any longer, but I lay down to rest and in that sleep was renewed with encouragement from God that, yes, I could go on.”

I’ve tried to share my experiences over the year and a half my husband was in the nursing home — that’s the average stay, by the way, for oldsters institutionalized toward the end of days — because so little is written about the roles wives play as the marriage survivors.

Look around you the next time you go to church. Note all the older women sitting there without men at their sides. Their men have gone before them or are ailing at home or in nursing homes.

Nursing homes are not fun places to be. There isn’t a single person in there who doesn’t want to go home. You can hear some of them, calling from their rooms. “I want to go home. Let me go home.”

Usually, no one answers. What can you say? You can’t go home. You are never going home again. This is your home now. My husband wanted desperately to go home and struggled with therapy and walking in hopes he could recover enough to do that, but it was not to be.

Diabetes is a terrible, debilitating disease. Unstable blood sugar levels cause a temporary dementia. When he was at the doctor’s office away from the home, he threw his walker at the doctor who called 911 and me.

I arrived to find him refusing to let the medics take blood samples to decide how to treat him. I told him it was for his own good and to let the medics help him.

He looked at me and said, not with anger, but curiosity, “Who are you?” A few minutes later, he had recognized me and asked me not to leave. I waited until they got him in the ambulance and took him to the hospital.

After his recovery and he was back in the home, he told me he felt he had done something to embarrass himself but he didn’t remember what. We never told him.

For that year and a half, I drove from Hansville to Winslow three days a week to visit him, staying an hour each time. I had a telephone installed at his bedside but it was no good. He either didn’t answer or turned the call tone down so it couldn’t be heard.

I still left it until he was gone because I didn’t want him to wonder why I had taken it out. Did I think he was going to die?

You could see him beginning to fail in June. Sometimes he’d sit there for the whole hour I visited and say nothing. The last clear comment I heard from him was a question. “Do you ever hear anything about my old boat?”

His old boat was a 27-foot ChrisCraft I sold to my grandsons when it became evident we would never go out in it again. I called their mother and told her to get those grandsons to the nursing home to talk to him about his boat.

On July 18, his chief nurse said he was fighting taking food, fighting therapy, fighting treatment.

“I’m through,” he said.

I knew what she was trying to tell me. She called the doctor who OKed letting him go, as I did. The nurse and one of my daughters stayed with him all that night and were with him when he died at 5 a.m., just as I was leaving to go to him.

The towheaded kid from Denmark who came to the U.S. as a teenager has gone home.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at PO Box 69, Hansville, WA, 98340.

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