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Living Separate Lives "Together"
When advanced care means living apart
by Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer
Marriages that last for a lifetime are rare and
precious. Older couples have experienced joys, weathered many storms
and have endured the tests of time. Understandably, the impact on
the marriage relationship can be overwhelming when advanced care
forces one spouse to move to a care facility, causing a separation.
Most caregivers strive to keep their loved one at home for as long
as possible, yet that fateful day may come when long-term care is
unavoidable. This most often happens when a spouse’s safety and
medical needs have reached an unmanageable level or the caregivers
own health and well-being have become jeopardized. Initially, the
difficult decision to move a loved one may be taken out of the
caregiver’s hands by either the physician or other family members.
Oftentimes caregivers find themselves relieved to have been spared
from making this unthinkable decision. Nonetheless, facing this day
of change takes great courage, strength and many adjustments.
The Struggle of Separating
Betty and John were married 57 years when John
fell and broke his hip. Following hip surgery, John went to the
nursing home for routine therapy. A previous stroke at the age of 48
had significantly weakened his body; thus, he was now unable to
rally and achieve mobility again. For the past 30 years, Betty had
physically and emotionally stood by John through a myriad of serious
and even life-threatening medical issues. Sadly, this final incident
was the impetus for their physical separation and John would not be
able to return home.
Arnie and Jean were best friends and were married for over 50 years
when Jean began to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Arnie
faithfully cared for her over the next three years. Then a 24-hour
vigilance began when Jean became incontinent, would not sleep
through the night and began wandering away from the house. Arnie
brought her to the hospital and, upon evaluation, she was
transferred to an assisted living facility with a security system
for her safety.
The ravages of Alzheimer’s disease also separated Nancy and Jim who
had been married for 48 years. Jim paced the floor and attempted to
leave their apartment every day to catch a ride to “go home.” When
his behavior could no longer be redirected, Jim had to be moved to a
local assisted living home where he received 24-hour supervision.
These spouses faced an unwanted separation when their loved one
needed full-time care and could not safely remain at home. All three
are now on a new journey, facing this time of transition, adjusting
to living alone and seeking optimism for their futures.
The First Months
Caregiving can end so abruptly that the
caregivers are overwhelmed by the drastic changes. Living in “limbo”
apart from a lifemate can be one of the most difficult events that
couples will ever face. This time of transition may be met with both
resistance and acceptance. Life as they know it has ended and a new
chapter is unfolding with each day. The marriage is strongly
impacted and couples face many struggles and challenges, especially
in the first few months.