A friend online celebrated cutting ties with what, for her, was a rather abysmal past. I congratulate anyone who can put an end to pain and suffering. We each deserve more than that.
The exchange led me to thinking about my own past. Until I was about 30, my autism and chemical dependency were intertwined, so as to make me put forward a rather wretched countenance- so far removed from the little soul who was such a happy and hopeful child, until getting involved in rock fights at age ten led to the head trauma that aggravated my autism and caused so many of my peers to alternately laugh and cringe.
Age 30 brought the Baha’i Faith, abstinence from alcohol and drugs and my soul mate. She had her own health issues, but they were more or less kept at bay for the first 21 years of our marriage. Penny had a very positive, productive interest in health. It bordered on obsession, but if one is to be obsessed with anything, it may as well be that which enhances life. Someone like myself, used to a “catch-as-catch can” physical regimen, had much to learn from such as she, and learn I did.
When fate intervened, in 2003, and she suffered two head traumas within two weeks’ time, we began to look upon our shared experience as bittersweet. We kept on with an exercise regimen, through her neurological and physical decline, even in the wheelchair days. I would get her to the local YMCA or 24 Hour Fitness, two or three days a week. A kind RN showed me how to lift and lower Penny from wheelchair to car and back, and from wheelchair to exercise machine. Most of the time, it worked. This added at least a year to her life, I’m sure and we were so happy just getting the physical sustenance.
Then came infection, lesions, cleansing surgery, and rehab hospital. 2010 was like our lost year. I would substitute teach most days, and be with Penny afterward, until visiting hours ended, usually between 9-10 PM. Weekends, I was there just about all day. In November, I brought her home and we had home health care- so that I could keep working and thus contribute to what her disability checks provided. In December, 2010, the seizures started, and we came up with a deep breathing method of bringing her out of them. At first, though, we had to go through ER, ICU, The Speech about how a responsible spouse would have her put through a tracheotomy and on a breathing machine. (I ran this by Penny and she turned it down- being confined and isolated in hospital would no longer work for her- or me.) So, we left the hospital, arranged for a different home health service, due to her increased oxygen needs, and for its attached hospice service- just in case.
Mostly, home health-hospice was supportive, through January and February. I again heard a Speech, this time about “my duty” to turn her disability checks over to the State of Arizona, so that Penny could be placed in a care home. She rejected this option, as did I. That ended all social work assistance to her. The state’s social service structure, at that time, was abysmally mercenary. Things are starting to look up in that regard, though too late for my darling wife.
The staff who helped us, unfortunately, had health crises of their own- right at the time Penny’s bacterial infection flared up again. We did the best we could to keep it from spreading, but by February 26, 2011, she needed to go back to hospice. An unfortunate round of pneumonia found its way into her room, and her fight ended on March 5.
Since she left her physical self behind, I have experienced her constant spiritual presence. Our son has had similar experiences. He and I are on separate paths- he in the Navy and I wending my way through semi-retirement and on a well-defined path of fiscal and physical self-discipline. We converge, with her blessing, every so often, most recently for two weeks in December. I have traveled more, read more books, written more and eaten less. I have made friends, spent less money and been more systematic in my approach to life. When women have approached me, seeking more than friendship, I have run it by Penny, and the answer so far has been, “She’s not the one. When I see someone who would be a good companion for you, until we’re together again, you’ll be the first to know. Just don’t be mean to anyone.” That’ll work; it’s not in my nature to be mean, even when I have to be aloof in order to protect myself.
Somehow, I think these are things she wanted to see in me, all along.