Tuesdays at the Nursing Home- To Have and to Hold...
Last week he arrived alone for the first time. Pushing the throttle on his electric wheelchair and advancing toward me I thought he seemed somehow smaller. I followed him down the hallway and into my office, took a seat and waited for him to speak. Marriage counseling is at best a risky proposition. Couples usually wait to seek help until they are one breath away from divorce, out of options and seeing my office as the last depot stop before court. But when a couple has been married for 67 years, as Bill and Louise have been, the task seems even more daunting. What possible help or advice could I have to offer?
They had been squabbling, they said, and this wasn't their way. But in the past few months, as the day wore on, Louise would, without fail, begin to snipe at Bill. Bill would react by retreating into his office. Once there, he'd sit staring at his stacks of file folders, all meticulously organized to contain the facts and figures of their lives- past, present and future.
"She says she wants to move back to our old house. She doesn't like the apartment. She doesn't like the woman they send in to help her get dressed in the morning. Even worse, she wants to get her driver's license again." Bill would smile ruefully and shake his head. "She's not being logical. She's not thinking about her own safety, let alone that of the other drivers out on the road. Her memory's slipping. Since the stroke, she can barely use her right leg. I ask her how she's going to be able to manage getting in and out of the car or working the gas and brake pedals and she just tells me to mind my own business!"
Louise, when given her turn, would rail against the rules imposed upon her in their "Catered Living" facility. She talked about having raised four children while Bill worked long hours and how he just didn't seem to realize she was a strong, competent person and didn't need him or anybody else telling her what to do.
"I miss the intimacy," Bill sighed. "It's hard to hold your wife when you're both in wheelchairs or hospital beds. You probably think I'm a foolish old man but I still have feelings. I miss being touched but I don't think she misses that part of our relationship at all."
We worked for months, tweaking, adjusting, reframing, explaining and finally we arrived at a happier day-to-day atmosphere between the two of them. Shortly afterward Louise got sick and nearly died.
When she came back to their upscale retirement community, she was put into the skilled care facility and Bill was stuck going to visit her two and three times a day.
"They won't let me take my electric wheelchair in, so I have to transfer to a regular wheelchair and try and push myself down the hallways to get to her room." He smiled wistfully and pointed to the boot on his left foot. "It's kind of hard to propel yourself with a broken foot and one arm that won't work. It takes me a while to get to her but she really counts on seeing me."
I sighed inwardly and thought about the foolish regulations facilities make and rigidly maintain. I looked at Bill, seeing tears spring to his eyes as he talked about missing his wife. It was as if the years had fallen away and the 88 year old man sitting in front of me was suddenly a small, lonely boy, grief-stricken and afraid.
"Are you sleeping?" I asked eventually, feeling inadequate and knowing there were no words adequate enough to soothe a pain 67 years in the making.
Bill shrugged and gave me his fleeting, familiar half-smile. "Oh, I sleep alright...as long as I turn my face to the wall and don't look back at the empty bed across the room."
Posted by Nancy at 10/28/2013 06:32:00 PM