Sheila Weinstein was forced to become independent when her husband of 42 years was diagnosed with dementia. In this excerpt from "Moving to the Center of the Bed," she talks about living alone for the first time and having to find herself in her 60s.

Sheila Weinstein

(WOMENSENEWS)–Many years ago in my college geology course, our class was shown a sampling of the Earth’s core. Layer upon layer, built up over the years, each layer had a different color and texture, each contained historical markers of life and death in their embedded fossilized remains.

It was the same with me. I brought to the challenge I now faced all the layers of my life, all that I had experienced, all that I inhaled and exhaled from those experiences. I came with old attitudes and beliefs, unfulfilled hopes and dreams and my various ways of coping with life.

At the age of 62, it was terrifying to suddenly find myself alone. At times I thought that I would surely die of the pain and loneliness. But I didn’t. Not because it wouldn’t have been easy to give in to depression and despair, to say goodbye to life rather than stand up and fight for it, but because I am a determined woman. I needed to know that I could make it on my own and that my life did not depend on another human being for its meaning or its duration.

Life had dealt me some mighty blows over the years and I had survived them all. Though this one seemed more difficult to bear than any other, I knew that I was constitutionally incapable of doing anything else but going through and coming through.

Everything Changed

The very moment my husband’s dementia was diagnosed, everything in my life changed. Everything! Not one thing about the journey from that day forward has been easy. I went kicking and screaming into the night to avoid the truth that despite my efforts to try to keep things as they were, it was a ridiculous impossibility.

Gradually I realized that if I didn’t figure out how to adapt to my life exactly as it was I would die as surely as the man portrayed by Christopher Reeve in the movie "Somewhere in Time," who died from his inability to remain in a former life no matter how desperately he tried.

But how to do it? Where to begin? I was suddenly a displaced person, anxious, deeply depressed, my fears at an all-time high. Everything that had held me together, that I had identified as me, my, mine, had fallen away. I was running on empty.

As I worked with myself over the next weeks, months and years, I came to understand that from the ashes of my former life had come a profound gift. The tragedy of my life circumstance led to my own liberation. It made me look within myself to find the truth of who I really am, what I believe and what I want for the rest of my life.

When I went from being half of a couple to being alone, I gradually understood that I was the only one who could pull myself up and out of the carpet-licking lows and anxieties that came with the upheaval.

Journey to Center of the Bed

I don’t mean to imply that I did not have help along the way. Having psychotherapy, reading spiritual material, self-help books and being with supportive family and friends are all to the good–and I experienced them all. But when I closed the door on the outside world, I was alone with myself. And that is when my journey to the center of the bed really began.

Moving to the Center of the Bed

"Moving to the Center of the Bed" is a metaphor for moving to the center of my own life, to a place of independence and self confidence, so that I could forge a new and meaningful life. It is about transforming myself from within, giving myself an inner makeover that is more lasting than the makeovers I show up for at the cosmetic counters.

It is also about learning to become knowledgeable in all the ways I need in order to take care of myself. That means dealing with practicalities like finances and medical affairs. It also means finding my passion, the things that give me joy and fulfillment and doing them every day.

In no small way it also means learning to honor the ups and downs of my emotional life–the terrible days when no matter how hard I’ve tried or what I’ve learned about myself, getting out of bed seems an impossible act. And equally important, not feeling guilty for the days that give me a profound sense of happiness in the midst of all of my grief.

Sheila Weinstein is a writer and pianist who was forced to reinvent her life after her husband, a renowned ophthalmologist, was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 64. She turned her journey into a book to help others cope with losing a partner and learning to live a fulfilling life alone. In 2008, she played at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall–a lifelong dream. She is currently writing a novel and is a docent at Carnegie Hall.

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Center of the Bed

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