Jane writes, “Dear Kathy, I am in a very difficult situation. My husband has had five strokes, beginning when he was 55 and we had only been married two years. I love my husband deeply and had intended to care for him at home until his passing.”
“I have been his caregiver for seven years. Since his last stroke, just over a year ago, he has been in a Skilled Nursing Facility. Doctors have been after me for several years to give in and turn his care over to the professionals at a SNF and I have resisted. I have now come to the point where I just can’t manage his care at home any longer.”
“Due to vascular dementia our relationship has changed. He hasn’t been able to carry on a conversation for several years. We haven’t gone out as a couple with another couple for at least three years. It has been a lonely, lonely time for me.”
“I never thought I would have any desire to have another relationship. To go through another heartache like this would be almost too much to bear, I fear. However, I don’t care for this empty house and my dog isn’t offering me any conversation either!”
“I have met a widower on-line and we talk every evening. He is a great guy. We know about each others backgrounds. I would like very much to meet him. I just don’t know what to do. What do other women in my situation do? Would a friendship with this man be totally inappropriate? I know at one time it certainly would have. It is different when you are in the middle of a relationship that is no longer providing any emotional, intellectual, spiritual or sexual interaction – and this is not a new situation. It has been this way for at least four years.”
First off, Jane, thank you for writing and sharing your story with me. It’s important that you talk about it and get some help and encouragement from a neutral source, and I hope I can offer you a bit of that.
When I first started working in the senior care industry I encountered a very similar situation to yours but it was the wife who ended up in the facility while the husband tried to carry on with his life. They were both in their early sixties, and like you and your husband, it just seemed way too premature and unfair. But my experience eventually showed me that these kinds of situations are not as uncommon as we would like to believe.
I am glad to hear that you have now turned your husband’s care over to a Skilled Nursing Facility. You were running serious risk of ‘caregiver burnout’ meaning that your health could actually be at risk by caring for your husband’s significant needs at home for as long as you have. As difficult as this decision was, you did the right thing for both your sakes.
Dealing with physically disabled loved ones is extremely difficult and taxing – especially when it comes suddenly, but adding dementia to the mix is a whole other ball game. The emotional stress on loved ones is its own silent killer when the person you love no longer knows you and the relationship changes beyond everyone’s control.
From what you have told me in your email, you married quite late, so assuming there are no children, moving ahead in your life will be much easier since children are usually resistant to their parents moving on. So while that makes this situation somewhat easier, there is still the issue of the guilt you are feeling by wanting to let go and live again.
Some people, because of religious or moral convictions, are adamant that marriage is until death, and they feel that even situations like yours would not be an exception to that. You may encounter people who unfairly thrust this view on you and make you feel like you have an obligation to live your life as a martyr and continue to feel alone and abandoned.
You have to remind yourself that even though your husband is still alive, your life together died a long time ago, and you still have needs that are important to you otherwise you wouldn’t be looking for advice. You are still full of life and you are entitled to happiness – no matter what anyone says.
Take a good look back at the relationship you had with your husband before the strokes. Was your happiness as important to him as his happiness was to you? Even if you never talked about what each of you would want if something happened to the other, taking a good look at the values you shared will help you to know what he would want for you right now if he was the man that he used to be. I think this is where you may find the best answer to your dilemma.
Jane, you must be very emotionally raw and needy right now, given the circumstances of your life, so it is crucial that you take it slow with this man that you have been talking to online. You are worried about the heartbreak of history repeating itself and losing another partner to illness down the road, but in the short term you should be more worried about guarding your heart in its very vulnerable state.
Should you meet up? Yes, as long as you follow my rules (outlined in the articles on the site such as How To Arrange Your First Real Meeting) and exercise good judgment. When we go through very difficult emotional times of loss, it is easy to put a lot of trust and faith in people who are kind to us but chances are that your friend is legitimately a good guy.
My thanks again to Jane for sharing her story with us.