Last Breaths June 24, 2019
Clement J. Hanson: May 31, 1950—June 24, 2019
The man I married forty-five years ago died today. I started out on my daily visit to him by picking some roses from our garden and laying them on his pillow. I selected some CDs of his favorite flute music. I played songs on the alto recorder for him and had nice smelling wipes for his face.
It had been a long struggle the last seven and half years since he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 61. He had probably had it a few years earlier, but even his primary care doctor was reluctant to order a neurology examination. After all, if a person is functioning fine as a doctor, there probably isn’t any problems with cognition. The first signs resulted in going to a marriage counselor, which would not have occurred to us before. When one partner in a marriage must take the load of relation work, it starts to fall apart. It takes two working 100% to make a marriage function. A couple years passed until he finally took the cognitive tests, and then his world crumbled, and mine.
Doctoring was his identity. Without it he suffered deep depression. As his brain weakened, twenty-five-year-old memories of his military time in Desert Storm percolated into PTSD. He suffered a hell of being fully aware of who he once was and what he had become. Through it all we did manage to have a good early retirement between his ages of 61-69.
The best was that we enjoyed our kids’ graduations, weddings, new spouses, and eventual grandchild. We took several road trips to the mountains, a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, and saw sites of Saint Patrick in Ireland and Scotland. We discovered cruises that were restful for both him and me. We could spend time together and apart. Confined to the ship, he couldn’t get terribly lost— especially if I wrote our cabin number on his hand. He loved to imitate a crewmember, who spoke non-English, telling him how to get back to his room and he ended up in a broom closet.
I think traveling, for us, was exploring the beauty and variety of the earth, which illustrates the glorious imagination of God. It causes us to long for the eventual combined earth and heaven (Rev 21) which will be restored and even more breathtaking.
Disease and death in this world are not God’s will for humankind. Jesus, “If you have seen me, you have seen the father” (John 14:9) healed the sick, relieved suffering, uplifted the downtrodden. My prayers hit deaf ears; Clem was not relieved. This is not to say God did not hear me. I know God heard the prayers of so many others that prayed for us. God was silent concerning Clem’s Alzheimer’s. However, referring to Romans 8:28, God does work things out surrounding the affliction. This I have seen in many ways:
It so happens that Ben and Julie are living with me this summer. That caused some difficult moments up until April 21 when Clem was still at home, mostly keeping the dog and cat separate! It is wonderful now to have their support. Ben and Julie spent some concentrated time with Dad for a few months that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Anne and George’s baby, Naomi, arrived in time for Clem to enjoy a granddaughter. On Easter afternoon, on a whim, I asked Anne to take a photo of Clem and me holding her. That was a few hours before he suffered the stroke.
Old memories were vivid for Clem in the last months, and he strongly recalled the baby girl we lost at birth in 1980. I reminded Clem often in these last weeks that he would see her soon in heaven. This always made him cry and was how I knew he knew me and understood. I don’t know how they will recognize each other, but I am sure that gets worked out.
Clem possibly wouldn’t have survived difficult breathing and low oxygen levels a few days after his stroke. I, with the help of Ben and Anne, decided to put him back in ICU with an endotracheal tube. This was against his advance-directive, and the doctors were not supportive, but I was convinced he still was aware of what was going on. And perhaps selfishly, I wasn’t ready to let him go. It did give me time to get arrangements made concerning a brain donation to the Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses Biorepository Brain Bank for the purpose of studying the illnesses that one third of all Desert Storm veterans are suffering. I would have forever regretted missing this opportunity. I hope I didn’t make him suffer needlessly for an extra 65 days but he was comfortable until almost the end. Knowing him, he would have wanted to contribute to this research. Now we found out that a DO (doctor of osteopathy like Clem and Anne) is the pathologist. Just a nice little hug.
So many more ways God’s mercies have found me. I am thankful I was with Clem at 11:15 this morning (Monday, June 24) when he struggled with his last breath. I had planned a trip to Holland with the Montview choir for the past year; I canceled it the day before. So many decisions I have had to make recently—and I have felt the divine guidance. I didn’t think today would be the day. I went back to visit him yesterday in the evening after I had been with him all day. Our oldest and closest friends in Denver saw him Sunday afternoon, the last non-family members to see him. He recognized their distinctive voices and personalities.
Over a week ago, a lovely young lady with whom I have two connections, both the choir and my music sorority SAI, offered to come to visit Clem with her music therapist skills at 10:30 Monday morning. It was priceless that she was singing with her guitar “Jesus Loves Me” and “Love Me Tender” during exactly these moments. Maybe more for me than Clem. So, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” I am assured he will continue with me.
Clem identified with Job of the Old Testament. I take the story with a grain of salt. No wife is going to have another batch of kids after losing the first. Also, the new babies don’t replace the lost children, as anyone who has gone through that experience knows. But, the lesson of Job is that after his sufferings, allowed by God, but not caused by God, he is rewarded with super abundance. This is an illustration, in terms humans can understand, of the abundance of heaven. (See also I Corinthians 2:9 and Revelation 21-22).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, on the day of his execution said, “This is the end—for me, the beginning of life.”
So it is with Clem, with love, Mary
I feel abandoned. By God; by my spouse of 43 years. My husband has what is considered early onset Alzheimer’s. He is in his sixties and had to retire from the profession that was his passion. The readership I am seeking is women, in their sixties, Please offer your suggestions and thoughts about living with a husband who is no longer the man you married.