Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Shrinking Bed

Last night as I lay awake at 2:30 am, it suddenly occurred to me that my bed had begun to shrink. I don't exactly know when this happened, but it certainly had.

I live in what is considered a small Victorian style row house. The home is long and narrow, with very small bedrooms. When Michael moved into my home he decided to sell off his furniture since my home was already furnished. One piece of furniture he would rather have not sold was his bed. Michael had a queen size bed, and I had a full, which is smaller. Michael was 5'11'', and I am a mere 5'8''. I had always been perfectly happy with the smaller bed, as it was a good fit in the small bedroom. Michael's complaint was that the bed was too short in length for his height. I said yes that's true, but it I am happy to give up more than my share of the bed. The reality was that even if we wanted a larger bed, getting it into the bedroom would have been quite tricky. Anyway, it all worked out just fine, as he tended to sleep with his head next to mine, and the rest of his body at an angle.

It later broke my heart when Michael's tumor had progressed to the point that he could no longer get himself in and out of bed without falling and hurting himself. His tumor was primarily in his right frontal lobe, so he began to lose his ability to move the left side of his body. In time the tumor spread throughout his brain, and he became confused and disoriented. I knew that the time had come to get him a hospital bed. The day that the hospital bed was due to arrive I went out and bought a narrow foldaway bed for me to sleep in. Although our mattress size was not that big, the actual bed, a double stacked chest bed, was rather large.

Those that have been reading my posts for awhile may know that I often reference going down to our bedroom, as it is located in the basement. This was a significant obstacle once Michael's symptoms had progressed. The day the hospital bed arrived I had safely in my daughter bedroom which is on the main floor. Once I had finished dismantling our bed, I placed the two individual beds side by side in the middle of the room. I then carefully assisted Michael down to our bedroom, and onto the hospital bed. I tried my best to explain to him that there were now two individual beds, and why this had to happen. I eased him onto the hospital bed, then turned to get his comforter to cover him with. When I turned back toward my sweet Michael, he was laying at an angle, across both beds with his head on my pillow.

I love him so much. Although this memory still breaks my heart, it also puts a smile on my face. It took several nights for him to understand that he now needed to sleep solely on his bed, as there was a metal bar between the beds that made it uncomfortable. As he appeared determined to continue sleeping at an angle, with his head on my pillow, I just started piling extra pillows and blankets to provide cushion over the metal bar.

After Michael died I chose to sleep in the hospital bed for the first few nights. Then one night I decided it was time to stop. I called the medical supply company and asked them to come pick up the hospital bed. They were not able to come out to my home the same day, so I dismantled the hospital bed, and piled it all to the side of the bedroom. I went into the garage, and dragged our mattress back into the bedroom, and laid it on the floor. There I slept until my three brothers arrived in town a couple of days later. We all went down to my bedroom, and began the process of putting my large bed frame back together. This became emotionally overwhelming for me. I was feeling both sorrow, and comfort, in the loving process of reassembling our bed.

That night as I crawled into our bed, I realized that it had doubled in size since the last time I laid there with Michael. It felt the size of an ocean. There was too much space, and I couldn't find comfort. I got up out of bed, and grabbed every pillow I could, and laid them across the bed at an angle. I got back in bed, put my arms around the pillows, and cried.

It has now been almost four months since Michael died. The earliest I ever fall asleep is around 2 am. Some nights, like last night, sleep just doesn't arrive. And as I lay awake in bed, I realized that at some point in the last four months, our bed had begun to shrink.

My body has begun to occupy more space.


  1. Hi Dan,

    So much of this post hits home for me. While Elias died of a brain tumour as well, his death came earlier than expected and he had just started on the path you described with Michael. It was hard to be at the start of that with Elias, and my heart goes out to you as you had to help Michael through those difficult times. He was a very lucky man to have had you there for him, and how beautiful that he kept sleeping that way.

    Sleeping and the bed was (and still is) a big issue for me too. I think it was about two months before I managed to sleep back in my own bed again, and it was hard. So very hard. I am often up far too late, though I have found in recent months my body has often been giving out a bit earlier. I once wrote that I don't 'go' to sleep, sleep has to take me.

    I wish you peace tonight, and hopefully, perhaps, even an extra hour or two of sleep.

  2. Hi Dan and Chelsea,

    I can relate to both of your comments about the significance of the bed after losing a spouse, though I didn't lose Austin gradually but suddenly. Our bed is such a lonely place on my own. One morning he was there, holding me as I awoke from sleep but by that night he was gone. It has been 9 1/2 months for me and I still pile a couple of pillows where he should be and I sleep on an angle, with my head where his should be. But I relate to you Dan in that my bed has begun to shrink a little. There isn't such a huge void anymore. And I agree Chelsea that sleep has to take me too. I was just thinking last night about how much I miss his bedside lamp on while we would read before lights out. But there's no way I can lay there now when I'm not exhausted. I wonder if sleep will ever become easy again, if our beds will ever become a place of refuge and comfort again? Just one more thing that those of us going through this difficult loss have in common.

    I wish a restful sleep and peace for you both tonight.


  3. Chelsea and Deb,

    I realize that even on days when my psyche gets a break from the grief, I can't deny my sorrow at bedtime. I lay there, and try to make sense of it all. Most of the time I wonder if I am waiting for Michael to come to bed. There is no logic to this, I know.

    Michael's oncologist once explained to me that
    the tumor would eventually not allow his mind and body to cooperate together. This is how I feel when sleep doesn't come. Sometimes I am physically tired, sometimes I am emotionally exhuasted, and my mind and body have become uncooperative.

    Tonight I am going to turn off my computer, and the lights, by 11:30 pm, as opposed to 1 or 2.


  4. i still haven't gotten under the covers as it were. i lie down on the top and pull a quilt over me. and i hug his bivvy bag from the Marine Corp. i don't know when i'll get in the bed like a regular person again simply because i don't think i'll ever be a regular person again. not now that he's gone.

    i wish you peace, and restful sleep.

  5. My husband was in the hospital so often the three years of his illness, I had gotten somewhat used to sleeping on my own when he died. I did, however, start sleeping with all the lights on for months starting with the night of his death. There came a point when I just told myself that I had to stop doing that.

    It is very painful to have to sleep in a bed alone when you are mourning the love of your life. I tried to start looking at my bed as a place of peace and rejuvenation. I realized the essential need for sleep to restore, refresh and heal me inside and out. So I concentrated more on making bedtime my time for reading and relaxing. And slowly over time, found the warmth of the covers comforting and less forbidding. I also got some new bedding that appealed to me - patterns and colors I really liked. This helped too.

    Michael's need and desire to continue to sleep with his head next to yours says so much...

  6. There was so much tenderness in this post, Dan. I started crying when I read about Michael lying across both beds. Perhaps he did understand but he was telling you that he loved you so much that he didn't mind the uncomfortable metal bars? I don't know.

    I am not going to admit how long it was till I changed the bedsheets ;-) but it was a long time (I did shower every night, I'd like to make that clear)!

    His pillows, still in their pillow cases are wrapped in plastic and stowed safely away, just in case I ever need to have his scent with me.

    The first night was DREADFUL - heart-rending, but now, I feel safe because it was our bed, you know? We have an extra king-size bed which was too big for us (and he hated it), yet it has become too small mysteriously, for me and two small dogs.

    I sleep in the same place, but seem to sleep on the other side (how I lay - not the side of the bed) and when I awake, I have one dog pressed up close to my belly, and the other one against my back. I swear the pressure, the warmth lets me sleep all night these days, even if I fall asleep later than I used to.

    I like to talk to Cliff and think when I'm in our bed. It's still "our" space <3

    I'm glad it's shrinking, Dan. Slowly, but surely. Turning into warm memories and tenderness instead of a sharp visual reminder of your loss. xx