The doctor pulled no punches about the MRI. He knew that already Sheila's husband failed to grasp that anything was wrong or different. As the doctor pressed on, George turned to a magazine, and Sheila sat, feeling hypnotized by the words, stunned by her husband's inattention. George, after all, was a doctor himself. Surely he understood... The voice went on. She must close down his practice. Immediately. He would no longer be able to drive. There was a long detailing of the likely progression of the disease. Sheila Weinstein felt her life slide into a great black hole.
She was sixty-two. George was sixty-four. They had just built a big new house in Florida. They were getting ready for some golden years. Now, suddenly every plan was over. Every dream they had together died. This memoir is not a recounting of that death, but rather the story of Weinstein's determined growth in response. There were tough decisions. She had to learn new skills, find ways to manage. What she brought to her choices and decisions was a strong streak of creativity, a brave pragmatism and a vital, self-interested honesty.
As mortality smacked her to attention, despite the temptations of self-pity and withdrawal Weinstein was able to see the gift of liberation in the tragedy of her loss. Life had presented her with an opportunity. She had been blown apart and she would have to put herself back together. The glue would be the arts she had always loved—music and literature. If she was going to be alone, Weinstein reasoned, she was going to use that time well. She played her piano. She wrote. So began her move to the center of the bed.
I read, and then reread, her story and its complex mix of emotional responses and insights. It's worth the second reading. Weinstein's decisions are somewhat opaque; they could seem selfish rather than self-directed. I sometimes wished for more details of the other people and events that moved and shaped her. She is trying to say a lot in a rather small book, and may possibly be holding back in concern for privacy. Those are small reservations. As Weinstein crosses a terrible abyss, one that any of us might face, her courage, passion, intelligence and humor shine through with the grace of lanterns in the dark.
When we lose a partner, however it happens, the pain and anxiety can be tremendous. Having forged a relationship, with chosen responsibilities and intimacies, the shift to being alone feels empty of heart and full of challenge. Mere survival might seem the best we can expect. 'Moving to the Center of the Bed' suggests we can do better. We can find comfort in a life lived more expansively, arms thrown wide to the world. Weinstein was fortunate to have the family support and financial ability to focus on the skills that give her heart ease, and to live where she likes. Of course, not everyone will have her advantages, or will make the same choices. It is the grit, the candid effort to grow, and the powerful personal acceptance that Sheila Weinstein reveals that I found inspiring, and that make me want to share her book with other women. She offers a model for easing losses by actualizing our gifts. In the dark spaces, she found waiting dreams, and claimed her place at the center of bringing them to light. I aspire to such courage. And cheer for her sunset moment of bliss.
A talented pianist and writer, Sheila Weinstein has a degree in French from Barnard College and a master's in piano performance from Trinity University. She spent the largest part of her life caring for her family, teaching piano and supporting her husband's career. When he was diagnosed with dementia, she survived by rebuilding her life around the creative work she loves. Find out more about her on her website or take a tour with her at Carnegie Hall, where she's an enthusiastic docent.
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