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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 50 - Listening To Doubt

When the curtain looks like it's about to fall, it's almost universal that a dying person is going to go through a period of reflection.

What did my life add up to? What did it mean?

When the horizon's clear, and we feel that our days are still many, we tend to look at each day as an opportunity to catch up - to correct at least some of the mistakes we've made, to catch up with those dreams that shimmer tantalizingly out of reach.

And when the test results come in, and you know that the days are, truly, numbered, you end up doing the math.

This is what it adds up to, this life I've lived.

Some people can look back on a life well-lived, but others - perhaps most, especially those life feels like it's being cut short, feel like they're leaving behind too much unfinished business.

And that their lives are like Shakespeare's tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

If your terminally ill spouse falls into this category, it can be heartbreaking.

Heartbreaking because the life you shared, the love you shared, will be dissected and found wanting.

What can you do?

First, remember that this is not about you. It's about loss, and grief, and anger. It's rage against disease, and the prison of time in which your mate is suddenly placed. And it's anger against God for not fulfilling the promises we assume He makes (which He doesn't; he promises much richer rewards, but they're hard to see when you're hurting.)

It's hard to step back, but this is the time to put on something of a professional face, and this is why it's so important to have your own life, apart from the role of the caregiving mate. When you've placed your whole identity into the role you're playing, you're terribly vulnerable to hurts that are certainly not intended...but that nonetheless may never heal.


Second, listen without trying to fix it. Your husband or wife may have to travel to this road to come to some sort of closure. Many people need it, some don't, and you generally won't know until it happens to your spouse...or to you.

It's a process, really. And as painful as it may be over some days or weeks or months, it can, in the end, bring a measure of peace...well, I did my best.

Arguing - trying to point out even obvious failures of logic that paint a negative picture - just puts you in an adversarial role, and may cause your spouse to fight his or her corner, to fight for that negativity.

Sort of like the quarterback getting confused, and running to the wrong goal line.

But there are times when you do have to point out evidence to the contrary, evidence that shows the true worth of a life.

But when?

Simple. When it's in the form of a question, and not a statement. "My life sucked" asks for a response along the lines of a wordless hug.

"Do you think my life sucked?" is a plea for alight, to illuminate the past and to create coherence from what feels like chaos.

Third, go for diversion. Reflection's never a terribly useful thing, even when good eventually comes of it; there are just too many dangers. It's an emotional minefield.

Encourage hope, and a connection to the future. I still work on the aeroplane I'm building, even though I know I am not likely to finish it, let alone fly it. But just the act of fashioning a small part - even if it takes me ten times as long as it should - is still a heart-leap into tomorrow.

Yes, I have to talk myself up, sometimes, not to feel it's futile. Actually, sometimes means every morning.

Another way to give a connection to the future, if circumstances allow it, is to get a puppy or kitten. There's something about developing that relationship, and seeing the growth of character, intelligence, and the bonds of love over a fairly short time that nothing else can match.

And it can be lifesaving; there have been documented instances of life being prolonged through the positive attitudes engendered from the love of a dog or cat.

What do you think? What else would you suggest, both as a way to keep yourself sane as a caregiver, and to help your husband or wife?

We're linked with Testimony Tuesdayand with the Wedded Wednesday,


  1. I'm excited to see you reach post #50 in this powerful series, Andrew. Congrats are in order, and appreciation for much wisdom shared.

    It's your legacy, man, it's your legacy! What an impact you are having now ... and will continue to have in the days ahead.

    1. I never thought I'd get to 50...and there's still a long way to go.

      It's a good legacy to leave. There are others I might have chosen, but God disposes, and I am content with His assignment.

  2. These posts will have such an incredible impact on all who read them, Andrew. I'm filing away everything should I ever need it later. So much useful information here. 100% agree on having a pet to help keep you connected and looking to the future. I believe they are God's little angels. Blessings to you, Andrew.

    1. Kim, thank you so much! It's stuff I hope you'll never need, but if you do...I hope I can be a shoulder on which to lean, even tho' I be at play in the fields of the Lord.

      And yes, I agree that pets are God's little angels...my service dog is curled up at my feet, and occasionally nosing my leg. "Go to bed!"

      If she had a wristwatch she would be tapping the crystal.

  3. Again, you are touching us deeply. I am writing a blog about appreciating life and the God given pauses that help us appreciate the beauty around us. I'm wondering if I refer to you and your blog, and if can use these quotes from you..? I'll check back..this blog is deeply moving Andrew ..you reminded me these few days to look at the moon, hear the songs of the birds, and the joy of children at play.

    “When the curtain looks like it's about to fall, it's almost universal that a dying person is going to go through a period of reflection.
    What did my life add up to? What did it mean?

    "When the horizon's clear, and we feel that our days are still many, we tend to look at each day as an opportunity to catch up - to correct at least some of the mistakes we've made, to catch up with those dreams that shimmer tantalizingly out of reach.”

    1. Kathy, please feel free to use anything that may help you, anything you find resonates with your heart.

      I'm so glad you have found and are finding inspiration here. That is a dream come true; it's the message I want to deliver, that circumstances don't define us.

      We can choose to accept both God's love and the Via Dolorosa as one and inseparable; and when we do, we transcend circumstance.

      Thank you so much for being here. I truly appreciate your company.

    2. Gracious thanks Andrew, I'm so grateful. Here is a link to the blog..called Thank God for Pauses--I include your quotes toward the end..
      I'll also be linking with TestimonyTuesday today and others. You bless me in deep ways.

  4. I think you've made an important point about listening without trying to "fix" things. No matter what the circumstances, I think we "evangelicals" have a hard time just letting people vent, sitting with our friends who are sick or grieving or sad with open ears, open hearts -- and a closed mouth!

    1. You're so right, Michele! I've always tended to be a fixer, and it drove my wife crazy; but now there are things I simply have to process...maybe I'm getting in touch with my feminine side? - and a listening heart close to mine is the greatest boon I could ask.

  5. I'm not sure what else I would suggest, Andrew. Having not walked where you and Barbara have walked makes it hard to know. That's why what you do here each day is so valuable for us. You are not only working on your "aeroplane" in literal terms but building something here that gets our sinking hearts off the ground when death finally calls for those we love. Thank you, my friend. I love the "tenderness" that you are speaking with these days and I hope that your wife sometimes reads what you post here. I know it would and and will be hard for her, but the man you are can be found here--not hiding but gloriously brave and lasting long past your brief life.

  6. Yes, I would imagine many folks feel their lives are "cut short" when given the news of their illness (or whatever) that puts a time limit to their lives! Can't say I know how that feels; yet, losing loved ones over the years makes me more aware of those time limits...but, am I really living my life to the fullest, while I still may? I think so...will I finish all that I have on my "bucket list"? Probably not...financial constraints again will keep me from achieving many of the wishes!

    You're words continue to remain in my heart, on my mind, in my heart; wherever they can lie and let me ponder them. And, my prayers continue for you and Barb; that's about all I can offer from here to there...that and those cyber hugs!!!