My Life Has Changed Forever

As noted in earlier posts, until now this blog has been a joint effort between Bill and Janet Buell. Janet did the actual writing but Bill provided much of the inspiration, gave wonderful critiques, and enjoyed thoroughly hearing any feedback that occurred. And now Bill is gone and I am going to have to learn to carry on without him.

Bill first began showing signs of the illnesses that disabled him in the early 1990s. By 1995, he was forced to retire from a job that he loved by the progression of those illnesses. We spent 22 years living with his chronic illness, and that fact was largely responsible for our drive to see that life remained fulfilling in spite of the challenges. As Bill’s illnesses progressed, finding ways to keep life fulfilling required more and more initiative, determination, imagination, and a sense of humor.

By the end of 2015, my wonderful, lovable, endearing husband had reached the point where he was completely homebound, required the constant use of an oxygen supply to keep him comfortable, and couldn’t remember what he had for lunch on any given day. He had chronic pain, frequent periods of confusion, and was so short of breath he had to give up playing his beloved trumpet. But the most important of Bill’s qualities did not change during this period of time. He retained his sense of humor, his extremely loving disposition, and his ability to enjoy the simple things in life.

As he had to give up so many of the things he loved, it did become more challenging to keep Bill’s life fulfilling. As he was forced to give up riding his treasured Harley Road King and then his MadAss scooter; then lost the ability to work in his garage workshop; lost his ability to travel; and his ability to enjoy the company of friends—we had to become very creative to find entertaining and fulfilling activities. There was a certain amount of satisfaction involved in managing to have a good time anyway.

And now Bill has moved on to a new level of existence. Bill and I both felt, right up to the very last moment of his existence in this world, that our life together was still pleasurable and fulfilling. And now I have the challenge of discovering ways to keep my life entertaining with my partner gone. I had never in my life lived alone. I was 19 years old when I met and married Bill, and I moved directly from sharing a bedroom with my siblings to sharing a home with my husband. For 53 years, my life was very much a partnership with the man I loved. Now, at the ripe old age of 72, I’m going to have to learn how to go it alone.

Before I focus on the changes that will be required to make my new single existence as fulfilling as my married existence was, I decided I’d like to make a list of the ways Bill and I found that worked best in our quest to make our partnership fulfilling. I am going to need to revise my way of thinking tremendously. I realized that fact this week when, for the first time in my life, I went grocery shopping and only had to consider what I wanted to eat for the next week. I had shopped for my birth family, I had shopped for a married couple, I had shopped for a family of five, but I never shopped for just myself before. It took me over an hour to do my shopping. All the choices were very different. I missed Bill more during that shopping trip than I ever thought it would be possible to miss someone, but a part of me also enjoyed being completely selfish in my choices after a lifetime of compromise.

I feel very certain that Bill is now having a wonderful time. After so many years of trying to have fun in a body that was far from fully functional, he is now as free as a bird to travel the universe and to visit with the hundreds of friends and loved ones who had already moved on to life on the other side. If I wasn’t able to picture him having a wonderful time, it would be very difficult to focus on making my own life as a single person fulfilling. This may sound a little crazy, but I can clearly see Bill, accompanied by his father and his brother (all three of them mechanical geniuses) touring the universe together. I think his brother, who died at the age of 38, is showing Bill all the exciting inventions and discoveries throughout the universe. I feel an obligation to make my life pleasurable, so that if Bill checks in on me now and then, he will see me having a good time and he will feel free to have an equally wonderful time himself without worrying about me. That makes it my duty to learn to find ways to make my own life, or what remains of it, fulfilling.

So here are the ways that Bill and I found that we could make our lives fulfilling in spite of the many physical and mental challenges of the last 20+ years:

·      No matter how tired, how confused, how forgetful, or how painful a day Bill was experiencing, we were always able to enjoy a lively discussion. The communication could be about something as simple as what would make a great lunch or as complicated as the question of why this universe is set up in a manner that requires that all the species living here on this planet have to eat other species in order to survive. We were communicating without the idea of necessarily reaching an agreement. In fact, it was often more fun if we disagreed. After all, you rarely learn a lot from someone who agrees with you on everything. So I would have to say that, in my opinion, fulfilling communication only happens when all parties to it feel free to express very diverse viewpoints and when all parties enjoy that diversity. The point of the communication was to discuss subjects that stretched our thinking, that engaged our imagination and creativity, and that resulted in the fun of learning something totally new about the person we had lived with for more than 50 years. {On my own now, I will have to find new communication partners who enjoy talking as much as I do and who also value diverse opinions.}

·      Our next favorite way of finding fulfillment was through exploration of something completely new to us. The activity didn’t have to be exotic, expensive, difficult, or even fun. It was best if it was something neither of us had ever done before. It might involve activity as diverse as listening to a new form of music or entertainment; engaging in conversation with people we had never seen before; eating something we had never tasted before; traveling to a new location, far or near, and exploring it; or doing something that required a brand-new skill like a home improvement project. The point of the activity, and the thing that made it fulfilling, was that it was a new and different activity that stretched our abilities and viewpoints or our vision. {Without my very handy husband to take care of home improvement projects, I will have no shortage of new skills to master and new experiences to enjoy.}

·      Listening to something new and different was another great way to make life more fulfilling. Listening to a new form of music, especially one from a very different culture that has exciting new sounds and rhythms or sitting in a central market place and listening to a foreign language being spoken all around would certainly qualify. Listening to the sound of airplanes taking off or machinery operating can also be exciting. A trip to an animal sanctuary to focus on listening to the wonderful sounds made by the various species would also come under this heading; likewise listening to infants or small children make their first attempts at communication would also fit in this category. And again discussing what we’d heard and how it made us feel afterwards was always a key part of the fun.

·      This item might sound strange and it might look a little strange while doing it, but sampling new and different aromas was fun and fulfilling. This item can often be combined with travel. The aroma of food in a foreign culture, the scent of exotic perfumes or flowers, all of these new and different aromas can be rewarding and exciting. We could just blatantly seat ourselves in the middle of the marketplace in a culturally diverse area and start sniffing. Doing it with our eyes closed and trying to guess just what it is we smelled was part of the fun.

·      Studying something that was culturally quite different from our norm was also rewarding and fulfilling. Again this step was easy to combine with travel but it doesn’t necessarily have to involve travel or great expense. In fact a great way to do this step was by watching an excellent travelogue on television. With a little planning it can be made quite realistic. For a travelogue on the joys of visiting Italy, we planned ahead and ordered some take-out Italian food to go with the experience and added some Italian music (easy to find on most digital devices today) and the experience made up for the loss of mobility and income needed to travel.

·      Another way we enjoyed some diversity and some challenging ideas was to listen to a church service, a philosophical discussion or political discussion amongst people who didn’t share our views. It was important to do our listening without a sense of criticalness or a judgmental attitude. (This part can be difficult, especially when it comes to a political discussion.) This could have been done in person by attending an actual service at a church very different from our own but, because there were limits on our mobility, we found interesting discussions on television. The key to having fun with this was noticing how different the points of view could be from our own, appreciating the ways in which the speaker’s culture led to these ideas, trying to learn something new about our fellow human beings through our listening, and finding something admirable, interesting or even amazing about what we heard. We didn’t have to agree with what we heard but we did learn to appreciate it.

·      This last item involved a good deal of imagination and it didn’t cost a dime. Bill and I would think of someone with whom we’d had a very good relationship. We would close our eyes, and imagine that we were with that person again. Then we focused on remembering a pleasurable conversation we had with them; tried to remember what we talked about and how the discussion made us feel. Then we tried to remember the feeling of closeness we had toward the person as a result of the communication. Next we imagined what we would say to that person if we were able to talk to them today. We spoke to the person as though they were there. We often got a strong feeling about what they would’ve been likely to respond to our comments. Doing this made us very aware of what made conversations with that person so rewarding, what qualities they had that contributed to our pleasure, and what we said that they appeared to appreciate as well because pleasure and communication are usually a two-way street. {Clearly, I’m going to start doing this with Bill now that I can’t talk to him directly.}

Even when Bill was in the late stages of his illness, we were able to do most of these activities and he was still able to receive great pleasure from them. And now I’m going to need to learn to do them by myself or with friends. I’m betting that I can find them equally pleasurable now as long as I remember before I start that Bill still exists even if his body doesn’t, that he is still able to get great pleasure from his existence even if I can’t see him doing it, and that it isn’t a betrayal for me to get great pleasure from my own existence without him.

3 thoughts on “My Life Has Changed Forever

  1. Janet,
    Thank you for sharing this absolutely wonderful piece of writing..a thoughtful gift of your thoughts and feelings during such a challenging time of your life. It was beautiful in it’s expression of insight and in its intimacy. Also, it served as a reminder of the philosophy espoused in one of the most influential books in my own life, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning. In sum, that all we really control in our lives is our attitude….yours is a reminder to me of that principle .It was an inspirational gift to all of us who may at times be “missing the boat” in our own attitudes about life. Thanks, again.
    Jim Currie

  2. I love your outlook on life! You find a way to turn what seems like lemons into lemonade, not just for you but for everyone around you, and isn’t that what we all want for our friends and family? Your ideas of how to make a difficult time in life more enjoyable are inspiring and show the love that you have for the people you know. To me, the only thing harder than dying is thinking about how sad it would make my loved ones feel when I’m gone. Knowing that my loved ones would work through that and find happiness as quickly as possible would lift that burden and ease my mind from thinking that I have to try and outlive
    everyone in order to prevent ruining
    the rest of their time on earth!

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