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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 63 - End of Dreams

We're linked with Wedded Wednesday, on the awesome Messy Marriage site.

When your husband or wife is dying, somewhere along the road he or she is going to realize the there are dreams, both shared and personal, are not going to come true.

It may be the vacation to Hawaii, or the hike into the Grand Canyon, or the sweeping graceful deck she designed and began to build before she became too ill to work on it.

And now there are the loose ends, hanging about like unquiet ghosts.

Travel brochures. Hiking equipment that'll never be broken in.

Or the deck itself...perhaps its posts sticking out of the leaf-blown yard like gapped teeth.

If it sounds depressing, it is. The reality of the situation can be denied for a long time; the plans for the trip can go on when there's the need for a hospital bed to be moved into the living room, and hospice has to make that first dreaded visit.

There might be a miracle.

And finally the hope fades, and your mate knows that the only miracle will be the final one we hold in faith.

It's a terrible moment to live; it's a terrible moment to watch.

What can you, as the caregiving spouse, do to help?

First, don't accelerate the process. Don not discourage the inception of a dream on the probability that it probably can't be fulfilled (with obvious exceptions that can lead to serious injury or financial ruin). This is often done with the best of intentions, to cushion an inevitable disappointment and to help direct energy toward the possible...but that's not your job.

You can't live someone else's death. In the end he or she has to be responsible for their own emotional well-being, and the best thing you can do is to be supportive. And to help pick up the pieces.

You can't prevent the shattering. You can hold them in your arms amidst the wreckage.

Second, try to help make the possible dreams come true, at least in part. This can take sensitivity and planning, but there's a surprising amount you can do. I wanted to get into dirt-track stock-car racing, but it was clear that even a mild crash - which is part of the game - would be very hazardous for me. So Barbara arranged for me to turn some laps in a friend's car while I still could. It gave me the flavour, with little danger (though I did spin the thing out several times). It's a wonderful memory.

In the example of the unfinished deck that your wife was building...if you can't hire professionals to complete it, ask your friends for help.

Yes, it's humbling to have to ask, but it gives these people whose presence in your life you value the chance to do more than say "I wish there was something I could do".

They can make a difference, and perhaps complete the project in time for the dying person to see the vision become reality...even if not by her own hands.

Finally, if the loss of a shared dream is a disappointment to you, don't share that disappointment with your terminally ill spouse.

It's an unfair burden; illness is not entitlement, but there are additional burdens that dying places on a person's heart, and you should avoid adding to them if possible.

And guilt is a funny thing; a large percentage of people with terminal illness do feel at least a small sense of guilt..."if only I had lived healthier, exercised more, smoked less..."

Those are terrible thoughts to have at three in the morning.

There is one more thing you can do, really, and that is to cherish the dream. Make it part of your life, if you can, to demonstrate that your mate, and the life you shared, won't be forgotten.

Another tough one to write, because I see this happening in my life. I'm still working as if I have plenty of tomorrows, but today hurts so much that it's hard to believe that.
I still have dreams, though. Keeping this blog going is one of them.


  1. I love how you and Barbara have invited friends into the journey, for the loneliness and isolation is the worse medicine while we're wandering through the wilderness.

    Praying for you both right now ...

    1. Linda, that is absolutely right. Loneliness is a killer; community is the lifeboat.

      And thank you so much for the prayers!

  2. I've mentioned to you before about my friend whose husband has a short time to live, Andrew. I know this is the kind of stuff she can so relate to. They were going to take a trip to Florida when things took a turn for the worse a month or so ago. They decided to make a shorter trip a nearby location instead. They still got the time together as a family, memories were made, even though the place was different. When it all comes down to it, it's really about making memories with your loved ones. Nothing else really matters. Praying for you, my friend and asking MM blog readers to do the same!

    1. Absolutely right, Beth...it's about making memories, and recognizing that THOSE are the only things that you...and your loved ones...can carry forward from that fork in the road.

      Thank you for being here, Beth. And most especially for the prayers.

  3. As someone who is also time-bound and dying (on a different timeline) 'of natural causes' there are dreams dying, dead or in the death-throes here too. I'm not sure anyone is exempt, and the disappointment can indeed be bitter. It is surely good to have a significant other or close friends to share the process with, it's going to be an exchange - giving up what we desperately wanted for what we got in the end, and we must learn to trust God's sovereignty and goodness that oversaw (and foresaw) it all from the start.

    Whether dreams of finding love, having children, or that international travel and just a 'normal quota' of years on earth, what do we do with that 'cheated' feeling? Intentional gratitude for the good that remains, maybe.

    Praying, as ever, and glad to be here today benefiting once more from your insights. Bless you, Andrew.

    1. Ruth, you hit this one exactly right.

      "Intentional gratitude for the good that remains."

      No maybe about it. Thank you for this.

  4. Yes, Andrew, as hard as it may be for you and Barbara to ask for help, sometimes that is what needs to be done. It's hard to know how to react around someone who is dying; it's hard to know the words to say to them...

    I recently lost a friend who, just a few short months ago, was delivering a program for a women's meeting at our church...she was having trouble with her words and thoughts and finally, her husband who was right beside her asked if she wanted him to continue for her...she graciously let him. That next week, they learned she had a brain tumor; she died last week.

    I pray that as your journey nears its end, you and Barbara share that togetherness as best you can; and that God gives each of you the strength, wisdom, courage, whatever is needed to "be" with the other and know what the other needs to hear or do or say...praying as always, Andrew, for you and Barbara!