Wither Away

Have you ever watched someone wither away? Most of us have seen an elderly person we know shrink in stature, quickly becoming a shell of their former self. What happens though when this person is someone we loved and been with for years, a partner in life? I can be devastating to a person’s psyche, especially when there isn’t a goddamn thing you can do about it. It enrages you at first. You’re committed to fixing it, to solving the puzzle. For those who take care of someone with a debilitating condition (like me), we go through the standard five steps of grief. This is the second go with me. The first was with my youngest son, who is alive and well, but with life-long disabilities. The second will be revealed shortly.

People typically associate the five steps of grief with the death of someone we are close to; however, it is about loss. These people who we take care of, we are losing them, it just takes a long time. People think differently on whether it’s better to go quickly or slowly. When we lose someone quickly, the pain is instant. It is a shock to the system. When we lose someone slowly, that pain is stretched out for the entire process, but with it comes extra baggage. We never really start getting over the loss until after the loss, unless there are some underlying issues.

Let’s add another wrinkle. What if this debilitating condition is self-inflicted, let’s say addiction. The soon-to-be-ex-wife is an alcoholic, dangerously close to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, if she isn’t there already there. I’ve spent three out of the four years of marriage trying to help her overcome this addiction. I just didn’t realize the severity of the addiction until it was too late. A cancer scare and covid did not help the situation. My mental and physical health suffered as well. Watching someone wither away by natural causes is difficult enough. Watching someone wither because of their willing actions adds an extra layer of grief to the situation.

Another issue with these types of situations is everything else suffers as well. Not only does the body wither away, but so does the love, especially when the people withering lash out. It’s almost like they are trying to push us away. In fact, they might be, but it depends on the illness. Some illnesses cause the brain to slowly die, making the person change over time. What once was a loving, caring person is now a monster or filled with anger and paranoia. When we spend so much time trying to care for someone, we tend to lose our own relationships in the process, making us feel lost, lonely, and hopeless.

I mentioned the five stages of grief. Denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are the common stages. Just because you get past one doesn’t mean you are past it forever. You can “relapse” into a previous stage, depending on circumstances. A glimmer of hope can be exciting, but cause us to go back to the bargaining state and slip into anger when it doesn’t work out. I have been going back and forth between depression and anger. I have accepted this loss, although it does not make it any easier to move forward. Watching someone you used to love slowly kill themselves is brutal. New revelations put more nails in the coffin of this long battle.

I wish I could say acceptance means I’m done with the grief, but reality is much different. I’ll always feel a sense of guilt for not being able to do more, even though I had no control over the addiction. I’ll always feel like I missed something that would have changed the tides of war, even though I know that’s not true. I’ve accepted it, and I’m ready to move on, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less. The only thing that makes it bearable is that I know something better is coming. I’ve written about the light at the end of the tunnel previously, and I wholeheartedly believe that to be true.

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