The Grief of Disability is Powerful and Life-Changing

In October, my husband’s aorta split for the second time. He had three operations in less than a week. The third one, to remove blood and insert grafts, took 13 hours. Unfortunately, he had a spinal stroke during the operation. When he agreed to have the surgery my husband understood the odds, a 20 percent chance of dying, a 10 percent chance of being paralyzed.

“Your chances of having more time with your family are 80 percent,” one surgeon explained. My husband accepted the risks in order to be with his family.

He was anesthetized for three weeks in Intensive Care. Finally, the medical team decided to awaken him slowly. As he awakened my husband, a retired physician, began assessing his own medical condition. Though he could move his legs and feet and wiggle his toes, his left leg was far weaker than the right. The medical team suspected a spinal stroke and medical tests confirmed this.

Being in bed for three weeks would make an Olympic athlete weak. But my husband has been in bed for three months. Physical therapy is helping a little, yet he has a long way to go, and his neurologist doesn’t think he will walk again. A nursing supervisor said the same thing to me. I sobbed on the way to the car, all the way home, and when I got home. I continue to grieve for my husband.

Though I am grateful he is alive, I grieve for all he has been through — the surgeries, the searing pain, the isolation of Intensive Care, his weak body, the challenges he faces, and life in a wheelchair. According to bereavement experts, grief has many faces, and I’m face-to-face with the grief of disability. How am I coping? I’m doing two things, learning to care for a loved one who can’t walk and building a wheelchair friendly town-home for us.

Hospital nurses showed me how to use a patient lift. I’ve learned my husband will need special tools, including a grabber, non-lacing shoes, and a shoehorn. After researching assisted living communities, touring them, seeing apartments, and checking on regulations, I realized that none of them fit us. Despite healthcare support, most of the communities asked me to hire an in-home nursing service for my husband. So we acted on our last option, building a barrier-free town-home.

Sometimes my mind is so filled with details I think it might explode. Then I calm myself. Life is a miracle and my husband is still alive, still the intelligent, caring, kind man I married, the man who has cheered me on for 56 years. He continues to recover from all of the anesthesia he received, sharp some days, slightly confused on others. But he is my husband and we agree on this: Love will guide us and lead us forward.

 

Harriet Hodgson

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Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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