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He’d only been living here a month,
although he came frequently for respite care
while his wife went to writers conferences.
He loved bragging about her,
the author of two books,
When his decline made caring for him difficult,
he moved here to stay.
After that, he went downhill,
lost strength in his good arm
needed help eating,
developed bed sores so painful
he couldn’t sit up for long.
One day, he quit eating,
was given oxygen.
His wife signed end-of-life papers.
Four days later when I came to work, he was gone.
For six years,
I couldn’t use my left arm or leg.
My wife did everything,
wiped me when I pooped,
dressed me, got me out of bed,
helped me with my computer,
prepared meals, did laundry and other chores.
Other women would have walked away-
she didn’t, despite limited vision.
For six years, I was happy until
I didn’t feel like eating.
It became harder and harder for my wife to lift me
so I reluctantly agreed to move to a nursing home.
She visited me every day.
We went out once or twice.
Although I wanted to be involved,
it was too hard, too painful.
I wanted to be in a better place.
I knew it would be a shock for her
so I held on as long as I could.
When she finally gave me permission, I went.
The nurse’s call woke me at 6 a.m.
I thought, this is it, I’m a widow.
I knew it was coming.
In a way, it was a relief,
but that didn’t take away the emptiness.
At his bedside in the nursing home,
I kissed his cold face,
positioned my cheek in front of his still mouth,
expecting a response—none came.
I buried my face in his soft hair,
caressed his cold chest,
told him I loved him,
took his belongings,
my life changed forever.
The Wife, Four Years Later
His suitcase from the nursing home sits in the closet, still packed.
His computer and other belongings gather dust
in the nook off the kitchen that was his for years.
Whether I find someone new,
there will always be a place in my heart for him.
Life and love go on.
I wrote the above poem during a workshop this past weekend given by University of Wyoming instructor Lori Howe. Click this link to hear me read it. Please check out my new memoir to read more of our story.