Alzheimer’s Heartbreak

7 Mar

Dear LetterBalm: Three years ago, I had to place my husband in a healthcare facility after years of declining health and because I couldn’t care for him anymore. He’s suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s; he no longer speaks, recognizes me or anyone or interacts with people. I entered therapy to cope, and I’ve accepted the painful death of my marriage. A year ago, I met a wonderful widower; we’ve been dating, and we are romantically involved. I need to know what to say to people – particularly my judgmental grown children and relatives – when I tell them I am, without guilt, seeing someone other than my husband.

–Second Lease on Life

Your saga is, unfortunately, becoming ever more prevalent. Alzheimer’s is a scourge of despair and profound sorrow, and Ms. L.B. firmly believes that once a spouse’s mind is gone, the heart of the marriage is gone. There’s no moral criticism of a wife who has watched her husband descend into Alzheimer’s who finds happiness with someone else. In every sense of the word, you are a widow and free to form another attachment. Honor your husband, but hold your head high and refuse to be intimidated:

I have something very important to tell you, something you may find difficult to accept. We all have been through so much pain with John/your father’s illness. It breaks my heart to see that he doesn’t recognize anyone he once loved, especially since he was such a wonderful husband/father/brother/friend. For me, it has been a long, harrowing road, and I have cried a river of tears for my dear man. [As you know,] I’ve been in therapy, dealing with all this and understanding that, for all intents and purposes, my marriage is over. A year ago, I met George, a wonderful widower I have been seeing. You are precious to me, and it’s important to me that you like George as much as I do, but I want to make it clear that he is a major part of my life now and in the future. Can you understand the direction my life has taken?

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