Ask Aunty Pam
Dear Aunty Pam,
I am in my 70s and my husband is in the memory care wing of a nearby Assisted Living facility because he has Alzheimer’s. Some days he recognizes me and some days he doesn’t and I visit him nearly every day to check and make sure his care is as it should be, and because I love him.
I’ve raised three children, two of which have had to move back home because they’ve been laid off, and I have been my husband’s caretaker for four years before moving him to where he is now.
Three months ago I struck up a friendship with a lovely man from my church whose wife is in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s. She is confined to a nursing home at this point and he also checks on her regularly during the week. Aunty Pam, ‘Frank’ has been such a comfort to me. Unless you’ve been through having a spouse with dementia, no one can really grasp the heartbreak, fear and stress that goes along with it. Our friendship has developed into having lunch together after visiting our spouses and I have to admit I am beginning to have feelings towards him. I think Frank is feeling the same way.
Last week one of my children learned that I was having lunch with him and she exploded, telling me I was cheating on her father and how could I even look at another man? Aunty Pam, she made me feel so awful that I just burst into tears and called Frank to cancel.
Am I really doing anything terribly wrong? I’ve never kissed the man, and yes, I’m having feelings that are stronger than just friendship, but neither of us have acted on them. We both love our spouses and are behaving dutifully as we can towards them, but I’m exhausted being the caregiver and I feel so very lonely. I’d like your opinion on the matter.
Dear Mrs Smith,
Ohhhh, Lord, this is a tough one for someone who has no training in marital or grief support, both of which I think would be very helpful for you, dear heart. I say ‘grief support’ because having lost my mother to dementia, I do understand how we grieve the loss of our loved ones while they are physically still here.
There’s no law, Mrs Smith, that says you can only have female friends to help you through such a terribly trying time. And you are certainly not the first person I’ve heard of who found themselves developing an intimate relationship with another person going through the same thing. However, that’s something perhaps that deserves a deeper look, because it’s easy to misinterpret (especially when we’re feeling so vulnerable) feelings we may be having as romantic, basing them solely on the sort of ‘rescue’ they provide when we feel we’re barely hanging on.
Your adult daughter’s response doesn’t really surprise me—she’s got her own stress involved with losing her father but I will say children often see their parents through the rose tinted glasses of being nothing more than ‘Mom,’ a ‘June Cleaver,’ if you will, instead of an individual who has their own needs, as well as potentially acute loneliness.
From my own point of view, I’d have to say there is nothing wrong with the friendship you have with Frank. And it rather breaks my heart you felt bullied to the point of tears that you had to cancel your lunch with him which you’d probably been looking forward to for the sake of maintaining a bit of sanity and just having a meal out—something so small as that can be such a help.
You may also want to sit down with your children and talk to them about Frank. You’ve nothing to hide. You met this man at church, you are both devoted to the care of your spouses and you both seek solace from each other. I think it only normal for ‘feelings’ to develop. But as of now that’s all they are. You’ve raised your kids, allowed two of them to move back in and are the long term caregiver for your husband. You’re in your 70s. You don’t owe anyone anything else, hon. You look after yourself for a change. You deserve it.