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Coping With the Loss of a Spouse – Chapter 2

April 29, 2014

The following article is part 2 of 3 in a firsthand account of coping with the loss of a spouse. This series was written by Richard Sater, who cared for his wife, Dolores, for over a decade as she battled Parkinson's disease. While he was Dolores' main caregiver, she did use Concordia for a few short-term rehab stays, and attended Adult Day Services two or three half-days a week for a year. His hope is that by reading this story, spouses who have experienced the loss of a husband or wife can be more prepared for some of the challenges that may lie ahead.

Richard is not an employee of Concordia and he isn't a medical professional - and he would be the first to say that every situation is different. So like everything else you may read online, be sure to consult your physician or social service agency before taking any action.

Feel free to leave a comment below and share this article.

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This article, in three chapters, describes the issues that I dealt with from the passing of my wife, Dolores, after struggling with Parkinson’s disease for 12 years. Chapter 1 covered the special challenges of moving from the job of being a caregiver to one of grieving and some early issues involved in that.

I realized that while I was busy caring for my wife, new families had moved into our neighborhood whom I had not met. With more than a little encouragement, I hosted a neighborhood gathering at my home. The act of planning and organizing it pushed me a little out of my normal comfort zone. The event proved to be a success, as I got acquainted with more of my neighbors and they with each other. I made some new friends, and I think that it also helped bring our neighborhood together a little.

There is no question that doing things with other people is essential, but I learned that it was equally important to develop interests of my own. For me, remaining active and busy was important for my survival. The routine tasks of taking care of the house and yard helped fill some of the daytime hours. Home projects were also helpful.

Exercise helped – walking, riding a bicycle, golfing, working in the yard. Anything that required movement and focus helped me. I acquired an MP3 player and, with some help from my oldest grandson, loaded music onto it so I had something to listen to while I walked.

I had time to read, listen to music and watch movies on TV – other pastimes that I had put aside due to the fulltime task of caregiving. I started reading again – a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. I also caught up on some overdue letter writing, starting with thank-you notes to everyone who had sent cards of sympathy or flowers in memory of Dolores or food to help us get through the funeral period. I also kept in touch with other friends through e-mail.

I have never been one who enjoyed a special hobby, other than participating in sports, but I felt the need to do something that mattered to me, something that required thought and energy and a little creativity. I came up with the idea of generating a history of the life that my wife and I had together.

Over the course of several months, I put together a scrapbook of photos of her and us and our family and friends, including special events and activities. I wrote captions to describe the pictures and asked others to contribute their memories, and everything ended up in the book. It helped me remember the good times we had together and it gave me something to share with everyone who knew her. It became a beautiful tribute, and it continues to comfort me. It will be there for my children and grandchildren when I am no longer around. My children have asked me to write about my youth and some of my family activities, and I intend to do that as well.

A good friend suggested another project for me. I had faced numerous challenges during the years that I cared for Dolores, and my friend suggested that my experiences might help others going through the same situations. I enjoy writing, so I began putting together an article about the problems I faced and the solutions I found while providing that care. The article is a comprehensive summary of safety considerations, caring activities and information about pertinent legal documents. Writing it gave me a focus and a reason to believe that I could do something, in my wife’s memory, that could benefit people who had the same challenges that I faced. I submitted the article for publication online and had a very good response – it gave me a real lift.

As Parkinson’s took its toll on Dolores, our world became smaller and smaller. For the last year or so of her life, she was unable to travel, so we stayed home. After she passed away, our son, Richard, encouraged me to visit him in Seattle – my own hometown. I hadn’t visited there in many years, though my brother and his family still live there as well as my son. I did visit Seattle, and reconnected with a cousin and a few old friends as well. I made two other trips out west to participate in special events.

Nearer to home, I’ve become closer to my younger daughter, Doris, and her family, who live only 10 miles away. It has been a pleasure to spend more time with my local grandsons and granddaughter. They all play soccer and I have gone to watch some of their games. I am also helping them get introduced to skiing. I have dinner with Doris and the family about once a week and I usually make the dessert for that meal (I feel useful and it helps her with the meal preparation). I keep in touch with Janet (my older daughter) and Richard by phone, on a regular basis.

Holidays are still difficult. On our wedding anniversary and on my wife’s birthday, I can’t help but remember previous events on those days. I visit the cemetery and take flowers – and talk to Dolores while I am there. Christmas is especially hard for me, especially my first one alone. I tried to maintain the same traditions that we had observed for so many years – with some adjustments to account for the fact that things were no longer the same. I put up a Christmas tree and hosted a family gathering for dinner. We left her usual place at the table empty, to remind the family that she was with us in spirit. She had collected sets of the US quarters for each of the grandchildren, and I wrapped them as gifts from her. That first Christmas was tough. The second one was still difficult.

Chapter 3 deals with resources that are available to help with bereavement and possible goals for life in the future.

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Good Samaritan Hospice (GSH), a mission of Concordia Lutheran Ministries, will hold a memorial services in memory of those who spent their final days under hospice care at its Wexford facility, Cabot inpatient unit, Heritage Valley Beaver inpatient unit or with Good Samaritan Hospice home care. The memorial service is open to all who are dealing with grief, even if they did not have a loved one in GSH care.

The service will be at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Cabot on Sunday, May 4 at 3 p.m. Concordia Chaplain Rev. Paul Rist will conduct the liturgy.

A reception will follow. Registration is helpful but not necessary. To register or receive more information, call Chaplain Paul Rist at 724-933-8888.

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