TAMPA — Betsy McDargh had what she described as the “perfect marriage.”
After marrying her husband, Jack, he adopted her two daughters from a previous marriage, and, unlike many blended families, they lived an idyllic life.
But that all changed when Jack was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, a life-altering disease that manifests itself in Parkinson-like rigidity, hallucinations, sleep problems and unpredictable and sometimes violent behavior.
As his condition worsened and Betsy no longer was able to care for her husband at home, he was moved to a long-term nursing facility. Despite the physical and mental barriers that separated the couple, Betsy visited Jack every day without fail.
The unwavering 36-year bond between them was never more apparent than during his dying hours when on Aug. 25, 2011, she cradled him in her arms as he took his final breath.
“I had never gone through the process of watching a person die and the first night after he died, I couldn’t do anything but cry,” Betsy said.
In the days that followed, the grief of losing the man of her dreams was almost more than she could bear.
That is until she decided to take advantage of the free services offered by LifePath Hospice.
“The hospice folks are gentle, compassionate and knowledgeable,” Betsy said. “They let me know it’s OK to feel how you feel and it’s OK to be scared.”
Bereavement Specialist Ed Evans counseled her on numerous occasions and understood the overwhelming grief she was feeling.
“When you lose your partner it may be the biggest loss in your life,” Evans said.
In an effort to help Betsy heal, he recommended that she get connected with a bereavement support group for widows.
“It was as if I had found a limitless resource and the support was just tremendous,” Betsy said. “Without it, I would have lost it.”
The most important aspect of the support group, she noted, is being able to communicate with people who know what it’s like to lose a loved one and have gone through similar experiences.
“By sharing, you get permission to be hurt, angry and mad all at the same time,” she said.
Betsy — who has since started a similar support group at the Johnnie Byrd Alzheimer’s Center in Tampa — is sold on the significance of such sessions, especially during the holiday season.
LifePath Hospice grief counselor Michelle Caulk noted it can be especially difficult to put on a happy face when the loved one you’ve lost is no longer able to share in the festivities.
“I went to the holiday workshop last year and got a lot of good tips, and I’m going again this year and taking a friend who recently lost a love one,” Betsy said. “Well-meaning family and friends don’t want you to feel sad but they really don’t understand.”
Two such LifePath Hospice workshops are scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 5: one from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at Serenity Meadows Funeral Home, 6919 Providence Road in Riverview and another from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at LifePath Hospice, 11150 N. 53rd St. in Temple Terrace. Call (813) 357-5609 for more information and to reserve a seat.
The organization also offers an online library of articles from Griefwords about grief and loss. It can be accessed by logging onto www.chaptershealth.org.
Lights of Love, an annual tree-lighting ceremony to commemorate lost loved ones, will take place from 6 to 7 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Melech Hospice House, 11125 N. 52nd St. in Temple Terrace; the South Tampa LifePath Hospice office at 3010 W. Azeele St. in Tampa; and the Sun City Center Hospice House, 3723 Upper Creek Drive in Ruskin.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.