(Originally posted on my old blog, September 16, 2011)
Well, in light of Pat Robertson’s advice that it was ok to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer’s and marry someone else, I felt the need to address this topic. I’ve already shared my feelings on Facebook, strongly (to put it nicely) disagreeing with Pat’s advice. So I thought that I would share, some personal stories, from my own family. Two very different examples of caregiving spouses.
My Mother’s Parents
My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s back in the mid 80’s. By that time, she had had several other health issues as well. My grandpa retired early to stay home and take care of the house and her. She had diabetes, asthma, arthritis, and depression. So she really wasn’t up to housekeeping, or much cooking. She wasn’t an invalid, but she didn’t have the drive or energy to do that (thought her ability to complain was uneffected). So when my grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, my grandpa did was most well spouses do. He joined a support group. And there, is where he met his mistress. She had a husband at home with Alzheimer’s (the running “joke” on this is that perhaps, since they met at an Alzheimer’s group, they forgot that they were already married). It wasn’t long after that, that my grandpa put my grandma into a memory care home………..and then, they started taking day trips together,and started spending the night at each other’s homes and his visits to see my grandma were less frequent. Then he told my mom and my aunt and obviously, they had some issues (like, “Um Dad, you’re still married”). Well he blew them off, and then, soon, introduced us to her, and she wasted no time being Grandpa’s spokesperson, always feeling the need to correct us. Once her presence in Grandpa’s life was established, my mom and aunt were asked to return their keys to their parents’ house. Grandpa suddenly had an answering machine and rarely returned calls. This was hardest on my aunt, because she lived a mile away from her parents for many years, and they had been her support (if you could call it that) as she had an alcoholic husband. Now, I’ll interject here, that I do realize that my grandpa allowed this other woman to influence him. He made the choice to gradually push his children and only grandchild (me) away. I remember how upset my mother was when she’d try to call on a holiday to talk to him and just got the answering machine. Until this woman came along, my mom, her sister and parents called and wrote each other constantly. Now, my mom and aunt were feeling orphaned, abandoned and rejected by their own father. Because they were! This new woman had no interest in my grandpa’s family. Eventually, my grandma passed away, and the mistress’s husband did too. A month after he died, the mistress married my grandpa (her stuff had been moved into his house long before). Eventually, she tired of my mom and aunt trying to call, and talked my grandpa into selling his house (the one that my mom grew up in) and move to her house out in the country. They only gave us a mailing address, no phone number. My grandpa eventually disinherited his own children because of this woman’s influence, and he adopted and bent over backwards for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He stopped acknowledging birthdays, didn’t send Christmas cards, and didn’t come to my wedding. We saw him again the week before my mom died. I had to call information to get his step-daughter’s phone number to call her to relay the info to him that his daughter was dying. He and his now wife, came two days later to see her, which I was glad for. However, he totally ignored my aunt who was also there and the wife tried to usher him away from her anytime my aunt tried to talk to him. The didn’t sit with the family at the funeral either. They didn’t even speak to my aunt until it was discovered that she was dying as well. When my grandpa finally passed away a few years later, the other woman and her family planned his funeral, and were able to have a private good-bye. I got a phone call saying that he had died, and then I have to search the internet to find out where and when the funeral would be. Now this may sound like I’m holding some kind of grudge, but let me point this out. When you bring in another person, you have two selfish people serving themselves That other person is seeking to get rid of your past and anyone and anything from it. What did he have to show for his life when he died? He had no relationship with his family and the few who remained, he had discarded.
After that lengthy diatribe………..on a more positive note…
My Father’s Parents
This will probably be much shorter, because these grandparents, were best friends. They had mutual respect and a mutual admiration for each other. After my granddad retired, they had regular date nights in the form of dancing lessons. When the lessons were over, they went out every Friday and Saturday night, to whichever lodge had the best band and danced all night. They worked around the house together. He helped with the housework, and some of the cooking. When they went to shop at the mall, he would sit on one of the benches in the middle and chat with other husbands waiting for their wives, until Grandma came along with shopping bags, which he would take to the car while she continued shopping. They started traveling alot, and saw most of the world. He still called her “Babydoll”. They had a warm and pleasant environment in their home, and I loved to go there. After some health issues, my granddad started to slow down a bit, and eventually they decided to move out of the house that he had built (large enough for nearly the whole family to stay in, and where we had had several family gatherings) downsize their belongings, and move to a manufactured home park. By this time, he was getting more forgetful, but he tried to stay busy, even when he could barely walk. All during that time, my grandma felt that it was her job as his wife to care for him, and she loved him. Even when he couldn’t remember out names, he knew how we were related to him. When my grandma once asked him, if he knew who she was, he paused and then said, “My Bride”. Eventually, it was becoming detrimental to my grandma’s health (she wasn’t getting the rest that she neededand had some heart concerns). So she made the hard decision, to put him in a facility. She visited him often, and was always concerned that he was being taken care of, that the clothes in his closet her his, and that he was eating. I went to visit him one day and he saw me, smiled and said to the nurse, “That’s my granddaughter!”. I stayed for about an hour (and by the end of that hour he was calling me by my aunt’s name). Soon after, he became ill with pneumonia, and was gone rather quickly. My grandma said more than once, “If I had just kept him home………..”. I think that had their roles been reversed, my granddad would have done the same for her. When he passed, he had many friends, family, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren present, who he had a relationship with (as shown on the slideshow during the service).
After viewing these two marriages, which one would you want to be in when you’re old? The selfish one or the selfless one?