#Lesson: Having everything, but really having nothing at all
It was just an ordinary day while working in health care, when I received a call from my home office. They shared that I needed to go to the home of an eighty-year-old woman who lived in an elegant high-rise. I was told that she inquired about needing some care in the home, and I was directed to go and have a discussion with her. I did not think anything about such a request, as that is what my role was on most workdays. I considered my job as being enjoyable, as I was constantly meeting new people, something that I loved, and I also enjoyed helping people. My role was to discuss their healthcare needs and then ultimately set up the process for them to get care in their home.
Upon my arrival at the given address, I was greeted by Betty, not her real name for privacy purposes. I was immediately impressed with Betty as she did not look like her age of eighty, she was quite fit, and the aging process had been kind to her. From a quick assessment, she had no sign of needing care at the moment and I immediately thought that maybe there was someone else in the home that might need assistance. I started to wonder why I had been sent to her home.
Nevertheless, Betty invited me into her beautiful home, we proceeded through the living area and ended up outside on her lanai. She got me something to drink, then sitting across from me, started to share with me a most disturbing story, one that caused me to forget my real purpose for the visit.
Betty, without any hesitation told me that the last three months had been a living nightmare, as she had been caring for her husband of sixty years. She told me that he had passed away just a few weeks ago and he had spent his last moments, not in his own home but in a skilled nursing facility. Being in healthcare, I knew the type of care he may have received there. She went on to tell me about her husband, who I will refer to as David. They met while they were in high school and became sweethearts. She was a sophomore, at the time and he was senior when she became immediately enamored with him. From her description, he almost sounded fairy tale like as he was tall, athletic, handsome and intelligent. He went on to attend college, however she did not continue her own education. They got married once he graduated from college and they immediately started a family.
David worked his way up the corporate ladder, while she was a stay-at-home mom raising two daughters. Eventually, David reached the ranks of CEO of a large corporation.
Glancing inside of her luxurious condo, I could see the trademark of accumulated wealth. However, I did not see any photos of David, or any family photos for that matter. Betty said that she supported her husband throughout their entire marriage by carefully ironing and packing his clothes for important weekly business trips. Tending to all the wifely duties that were so common during those times, decades before the introduction of the independent businesswoman. I had no doubt in my mind that Betty had spent her entire life with her husband as the center of her attention.
Betty painted a picture of their life together, they travelled the world and even lived in Spain for a few years at one point. She went on a solo journey to Tibet, which sounded fascinating, and she showed me a beautiful oil painting that she brought back from that trip.
It sounded like a lovely life that they had built for themselves. I could tell that Betty was enjoying reliving those wonderful moments as she painted a picture for me to envision. However, I could see her facial features change to one of disappointment as she started to talk about the last three months of their lives. She shared that David was home from a business trip, now a consultant for his own business which was set up in another state. He had been home for a visit when he had a major medical event. The unexpected occurrence sent him to the hospital and then later to the skilled nursing facility. It was in the skilled facility when he took a downward turn, and things did not go so well.
Betty told me about her experience of driving back and forth from her home on a daily basis, spending hours on end helping to tend to David. She retrieved needed supplies for his personal care, talked with the doctors and nurses at all times of the day and night as well as communications with other family members. If you have never been in that situation, it is very draining of one’s energy and just taking care of yourself is a real effort.
It was during this time frame I suppose, in the very last days of his life that David shared some shocking and life changing confessions with Betty. He gave her his dying confession, I imagine as he had no choice, and he knew that she was going to find out about his missteps after his own passing. I wondered why he did not share such information with a priest or a rabbi or someone else that could absolve him of his actions.
As David laid on his death bed, he described for Betty in great detail the lies and deceptions that took place during their married life. The most recent of his deepest secrets involved a woman in another state, the state in which he had his consulting business. He had spent the last few years flying back and forth between his home with Betty, and the home he had purchased for another woman. To Betty’s surprise, David had been involved with many women through the years as he described how he had betrayed her. During his business trips away from home, while staying in high end hotels, he told her how he lured women to his side. Supposedly, with just a wave of his index finger at his prey, women flocked to his bar seat without a thought, as he bought them drinks and intoxicating them with alcohol and flattery that they could not refuse.
Her last moments with David were spent listening endlessly to him as he told her about all of his misdeeds, while he laid helpless to cover up his infidelities. Betty tirelessly continued to care for him, according to her it was a drudgery and very painful for her, as he spent his last days confessing. She told me that she forced herself to be by his side during this time, as he ruined the image of their sixty years of marriage.
Betty went on to question her naivety, wondering how she did not recognize the signs. Innocently unaware of any inconsistencies that played out before her. She also indicated that maybe there were some signs, and she just did not want to acknowledge them.
After several hours of listening to Betty, I had heard more than I really wanted to hear, and it was time for me to leave. Her story had filled me with a wide range of emotions, from sadness to anger. Sometimes my own eyes filling with tears as I could feel the burden that she had to carry. As I passed through her home to exit, I could see for my own eyes the stacks of papers filling Betty’s kitchen counters and tables. Remnants of the mess, tending to credit cards, bills and other financial matters related to the other woman that he had been living with, unbeknownst to Betty. Betty even had to meet the other woman in person to dissolve the ties. Betty told me that the other woman did not have the knowledge of his passing until the obituary was posted in their local paper.
Through the years, I had listened to many stories from the senior citizens that I served. Stories about lost loves, unrequited love, broken family ties, abuse, hoarding, terrible diseases, children deserting parents and parents distancing children. However, this was the most disturbing for me. I could not imagine, being eighty years old and finding out that your marriage had been a sham for most of your married life. I admire her for helping him to work through the dying process by providing him with peace of mind at the very end. Her story left an imprint on my own life, making me ponder human nature. I left her home with more questions than I had answers. I was glad that I could be a sounding board for Betty that day and I continue to pray for her peace and healing.
At the age of eighty, Betty had to make a new life for herself. She also had to deal with the pain that her husband left behind. Betty had to move forward and try to put the past behind her. I left her home with little doubt that the hurts would heal, and the actions of David would remain with her for eternity. I was just a witness to her story and made no judgements. I also suggested that she visit with a counselor to help deal with unresolved feelings. The irony of it all, having had everything but really having nothing at all.