Until Death Us Do Part

A small group of old pals have been trying to arrange a little get-together including an old friend of mine, now in his mid-eighties. We knew that his wife was suffering from dementia and that he is her sole carer, but have been sorry to discover that although he has several grown-up children and grandchildren, nobody is available to spend an evening looking after this poor lady in order to allow him to have a couple of carefree hours. He defended his family, saying:

The problem is leaving her with anybody, even X (her daughter), as she doesn’t know who they are!  She asks me several times a day who I am and will I take her home to her Mom and Dad … Unless you have personally experienced the incredible effects of dementia it all sounds ‘made up’.  I assure you, it’s even worse than that!  They do hope to have a cure in 10 years’ time. Ha, bloody Ha.

I suggested she might be able to spend a day or two in a care home for respite now and then, to give him a rest. Or perhaps, since she was so disoriented and unable to recognise even her closest family members that she wouldn’t realise where she was, to place her in a home permanently, and I recommended the nursing home where my mother is.

This was the heart-rending reply.

Cat, I’m not sure I could afford it on my smallish pension. And I’d feel like a total traitor. We started courting nearly 69 years ago, have been married over 64 years and it did say, ‘for better or worse’. I’m not sure it could get any worse and I’m somehow surviving so I shall let it ride for now to see what fate has in store.

She clings to me so desperately it’s touching to watch.

I could do with getting out I’ll admit, just to chat etc.  But I can’t create the opportunity without enormous upset.  Let’s see what happens and if X can help. She has been tremendous. 

What makes this particularly moving is that I know they didn’t really have a good marriage and had considered divorce more than once. As the years advanced, they agreed to make the best of the situation for the sake of their family, and stayed together. They lived together but independently, each pursuing their own interests, and were able to remain friends, even occasionally going out together to concerts or the the theatre, interests they still shared. So this isn’t a case of a devoted, loving couple, but of an honorable man who made a promise he is determined to keep whatever the circumstances.

I think of so many couples in love who make their marriage vows easily and carelessly, “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health*”, without any thought of what that might entail, and who give up and separate when the pendulum swings to the poorer, worse, and sick side. For our friend, who feels that he somehow failed to “love and to cherish” his bride quite as well as he might, this ordeal is his chance to make amends over and above any duty that could be expected of him. I pray it will not kill him.

 

*Wedding vows of the Church of England:

Groom: I,____, take thee,_____, to be my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.

 

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7 thoughts on “Until Death Us Do Part

  1. I know of several similar situations. My husband’s best friend will not leave his wife for a an hour visit with my husband. My girlfriend in Germany will leave her 92 year old husband alone for several hours or a week with some help, but will not visit me here in the US. Another girlfriend in Connecticut just put her husband in a nursing home and is paying 12.000 dollar a month. He does not have his own room. My heart brakes when I think of this once brilliant man .

  2. I feel for this man, but doubt his wife is even aware of his sacrifice. Even if he put her in a nursing home, it would not be abandonment. He could spend as much time as he chose, yet not have the debilitating burden of her care. I have known of spouses who spend hours every day with patients in nursing homes. Help with personal or custodial care is a Godsend.

    • No, I don’t think she has any idea and if she had, she would be horrified. She used to be a very loving, caring person – she would never have wanted to be such a burden. But I understand where he is coming from.

  3. Oh my. Very heartbreaking. And I think, in some ways, a little misguided. While I admire the gentleman’s loyalty, I suspect that this poor soul will be miserable no matter where her bed is or whom her caregiver is. Sad reality. And at his age, he doesn’t have years to spare.

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