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Living Separate Lives "Together"
When advanced care means living apart
from your spouse

by Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer

(Page 2 of 4)

Nancy was focused on caring for Jim for over 10 years. She describes herself as a compassionate, patient and caring person; yet over time, she grew weary as Jim became fully dependent on her. As his behaviors escalated, he had to be hospitalized and was then transferred to a care facility within days. Nancy expressed a feeling of “shock” when she suddenly had to “let go” of her familiar role as his caregiver. She felt a sense of relief, yet a loss of control and had difficulty facing the silence at home and the empty time she had on her hands. The feelings were bittersweet. She recalls that the first month was the hardest as she faced life without the daily presence of her husband. 

Arnie found the separation from Jean was nearly unbearable in the beginning. He recalled, “This was never a part of the plan for our lives.” He was fraught with guilt and angry at what the disease had taken from their lives. Yet, he also knew he was losing sleep daily and he felt very close to having a heart attack from the worry and stress of caregiving prior to moving his wife.

For many years, Betty dreaded this day of separation. She recalled the fear and uncertainty she felt when John was hospitalized after his fall and realized their future together hung in the balance. She had been John’s caregiver throughout most of his adult life and now they would both encounter the adjustments of living apart.

Emotions

Facing and acknowledging the emotions of living apart is an important element of coping with this new experience and solitude. Caregivers may struggle with feelings they believe are wrong, such as guilt and anger. Feelings of failure or defeat, along with sadness, are all normal responses to this dramatic life change. Grieving for the life and dreams once shared is another predictable response. Ultimately, feelings can be very destructive unless one can learn an alternative way to view and accept their situation. 

Nancy fought to hold back the tears when she had to say goodbye to the person her husband “was” and the life they had shared together. She questioned her motives, yet realized that moving her husband to the care facility was actually a ”loving decision” and that he would be safe and receive the best of care for his increasing needs.

Betty also realized that life wasn’t ever going to be the same and that this change brought a flood of difficult feelings to the surface. Over time, she recognized that if she were going to survive this change, she would have to embrace it and see it through “new eyes.” 
Support groups at the nursing home or care facility, personal counseling, pastoral care and time spent with the family can all contribute to accepting this emotional transition. Focusing on past memories and grieving openly can also lead to healing the feelings of loss.

Changes in the Relationship

When distance and living environments separate a couple, the focus turns to building a different relationship with the spouse. The partnership of marriage does not have to end when one spouse enters a care facility. Instead, new bonds and connections can be made together and the relationship can continue to be nurtured. 

Arnie shared that, “She doesn’t know me anymore as her husband, but rather as her ‘best friend’ and someone who cares about her. I am learning to live with that now.”

Nancy does not drive, so she is only able to visit her husband once a week. She has found that each visit seems to bring more peace and she is pleased that Jim is beginning to accept his new home. He doesn’t recognize her every time and she realizes she is slowly losing him. Nevertheless, she remains involved at a practical level, doing his laundry, helping him with personal hygiene or attending an activity together. She sees these visits, along with her own planning for the future, as her most important responsibilities now.

 

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