It’s been a year since Dean died. His wife Maggie, now ninety-one, took some time for herself this week to remember her husband and the good times they had. They were married for twenty-two years; each had been married before and had (adult) children by the time they met – at a square dance in 1996.
Maggie always thought she would be the first to go, Dean had nursed her through so much. But it was Dean whose health had failed during the year before COVID-19. The day the VA hospital was to shutter for all visitors, they put Dean, struggling to breathe, in a van and dropped him off at his house. At the time, this seemed like a shocking turn of events, but in the end Maggie and Dean couldn’t have orchestrated a better final curtain. He was able to die with his beloved Maggie at home, not in a hospital with strangers.
How has Maggie coped through this last year? What has kept her strong? Everything about her life has changed. A series of tough questions were answered with no hesitation. Maggie loved sharing a bit of her story to honor Dean’s memory and to help others dealing with such a major life change.
What have been hardest things to deal with a year after Dean passed?
I think back on his last few days and wonder what else I could have done to make him more comfortable. Did I rub his back enough? Read to him enough? Did I play enough comforting music for him? Did I do enough of the things that I know he would have done for me?
I had no idea about how his finances were organized. We kept separate accounts, but all of the utilities were in his name, he had automatic shipments of things like toothbrushes and books. It took some leg work to untangle some of those details.
Being alone has been difficult. My family and friends were afraid of infection risks before we were vaccinated. Now I have to decide where to live, I have been sorting through Dean’s things to give to his sons or donate. That’s hard.
On the anniversary of his passing, I wanted to be still and think about him and the blessings we shared together. I started going through our journals again too.
How has the pandemic made your situation better or worse for you?
The Pandemic made my situation worse because I couldn’t go to church and be with people who could help me through the tough times. I wish his family could have visited before he passed. The blessing was that he was able to pass at home, because of the pandemic.
You have some hefty journals – how soon after meeting Dean did you start making them? Revisiting them seems to offer you some comfort.
The journals started as a way to record mileage for the trips we took together. Dean wasn’t a part of it at first. As he noticed that I was documenting our travel, he would say “it’s a nice day today”, and I would add that. Then it became a way for us to comment on the day’s events, the weather, our thoughts, etc. I was always the journaller, but he was a collaborator. He would ask, “did you write that down?” Over the years I started adding cards and letters we received and the journals became a document of our whole life, not just the trips we took. Taking them out and reliving those moments are precious to me.
What advice could you share with someone of advanced age who loses a companion? With or without a pandemic?
Have faith. My faith has been a huge part of who I am. Hold on to the Iron Rod. Look for moments to remember and cherish. For me one was when Dean actually passed. We knew it was imminent. At dawn, he made some noises in his throat, I looked at the sunrise as a golden beam of light came through the window and rested on him – I thought it looked like a golden path for him to follow to go home. I tried to crawl in his hospital bed but I couldn’t navigate the bedrail, so I held his hand and squeezed. He lightly squeezed back and we shared those last moments together. And then he was gone.
Make memories, make the most of your time together so when one is gone you can look back and smile. My journals are treasures and I like talking about things we did together.
Find joy in the little things – a blooming flower, the way the sky looks or a baby’s smile. Have faith and seek to find joy. That’s the best advice I can offer.