The other woman?

12 Sep

Despite my husband’s loss of memory, he still looks physically handsome and younger than his 82 years.  He wears his colorful golf shirts and khakis as he walks around his assisted living facility with a perfect posture, managerial strut, and a warm smile .  People have shared with me that he looks more like the director than a resident.  So, it is no surprise that Ernie catches the attention of many of the widowed women in the assisted living areas of the facility.

The staff and I smiled as, during his first few weeks in assisted living,  various women were overheard discussing the new handsome gentleman and questioning whether his wife was still alive.  This became a moot point, however, when I was seen with him on my daily visits.   I didn’t feel jealous or threatened and was proud that he was receiving such attention. I enjoyed entering the facility through its double doors each visit to see who was milling around the bistro and living areas to greet. I felt that Ernie’s new home had become my home-away-from-home and his new friends were my new friends, as well.  He would laugh when I told him what a stir he was causing and say, “Don’t worry, you are my lady.

The time came, however, when Ernie was spending most of the day in the memory care section of the facility vs. the assisted living area and, once again, he became the new handsome gentleman to the resident women in this area.  The difference is that Ernie and these women have dementia and could not be rational about their feelings. Ernie became the new boyfriend or husband in a few cases. I found when I entered the facility for my visits, I was not as welcomed by his admirers!  It became uncomfortable for me after a few interactions from one outspoken resident who shouted at me for taking Ernie away from her and scolded him for leaving her.  This confused my husband terribly and, with his demented mind,  he was not sure whether to go with me or stay with her.  I felt extremely awkward trying to defend my presence to her and getting the unexpected, uncomfortable feeling that Ernie was not as drawn to me.  His response to me that day was not as welcoming as it had been previously.  I felt tense entering the area and wondered if this was a sign of what is to come.

The staff was aware of the situation and took some necessary action as to the activities and the possessive resident’s need to be near Ernie.  That particular relationship was snuffed for the time-being.

Ernie is now matched up with a lovely, quiet and strong-natured widow for his daily meals.  Both sit together every day at their own table for two and have formed a nice friendship.  She definitely thinks that Ernie is her husband and I try to be more tolerant on this.   I see them sitting comfortably together in the living and activity areas.  No doubt, they enjoy each others’ company.   Presently, Ernie still knows me as his lady, but I can’t help but wonder what may be next.   How will it feel when he doesn’t recognize me as his wife?  How will it be for me to see him thinking someone else is his lady?

We know this happens.  The Honorable Sandra Day O’Connor is a famous example of having this exact challenge with her husband’s dementia.   I am trying to be realistic and pass no judgement.  My desire, of course, is for Ernie to be comfortable and happy — and I am thankful that he is.  I’m trying to have a sense of humor on the little comments that this lovely lady makes about Ernie to me — especially when she tells me that she is “keeping him straight!”  I smile or cajole with her and try not to take any of this personally.  In a way, I see her taking care of his needs and being a good companion to him when I am not there.  For the moment, Ernie still looks for me and loves going out with me when I arrive.  He still calls me his lady and I choose to enjoy it while it is still here.

This is just another step in a new direction with a partner who has dementia.  I pray I can continue to keep my focus on what Ernie and I had and still have and not on what might be next. Life brings us challenges and I try to take each day as it comes.

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3 Responses to “The other woman?”

  1. boomer98053 September 12, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    I know this situation is very difficult for you, and although it is a common occurrence in memory care units across the country, that doesn’t make it any easier.
    I recall a situation from an Alzheimer’s caregiver support group meeting that I used to facilitate. One of the attendees, an 82-year old woman, relayed the following about her husband, who had dementia and was still able to reside with her in their private residence: Herb was very pleasant to Barbara; getting along with her and not acting outwardly upset with her presence in his home. One day, as they were both getting ready for bed, Herb turned to Barbara and said, “You’re a nice lady and all, but I’m not going to have sex with you because I’m a married man.” It’s one of those moments that is both sad and delightful. Sad, because he no longer recognized his wife, but delightful because even in his dementia, he was actually still staying committed to the vows that he and his wife had shared 62 years earlier.
    So I hope you will take comfort that your Ernie still declares that you are “my(his) lady” because deep down in the recesses of his mind, you are.

  2. Janine October 7, 2012 at 12:42 am #

    I can understand your approach when both are inflicted with Alzheimers (or other dementia) however, what if the ‘other’ rest home resident, showing a friendship towards the other, has all their faculties?

    My mother has been in rest home care for a year with a diagnosis of ‘stage 2 Alzheimers’. She would still be at home with Dad if he had not needed urgent hospitalisation and my sister and I took the decision away from him and temporarily had Mum placed into care. Dad’s medical issues required that he was in and out of hospital for 6 months and through that period it was clear Mum would be better cared for with professionals in a residential facility. Dad would not have been able to cope.

    None of this was easy for any of us and our lovely Mum was very confused and sadly accepting. Dad too has had to live without his wife in their home and is learning to cope with being alone. He struggles with guilt and loss and grief and frustration that he cant make it right again – I guess like any one would. Mum and Dad have been together for 50 years.

    Dad visits her most days and my sister and I visit as often as we can (we live a few hours away). Over the last couple of months, one of the older men in the same part of the facility as Mum, who has no dementia type issues, has started to show her a lot of attention and friendship. The facility management advised Dad of this and he admitted he had ‘noticed’ they sat together a lot.

    It has now developed into hand holding publicly. I understand other male residents have seemingly given him a hard time for ‘befriending a married woman’ whose husband always visits. Mum seems to be happy with this friendship and lately Dad has noticed she is a little offhand with him (Dad) when he visits and doesnt seem to care if he is there or not – but he does not know if he is being too ‘sensitive’. Mum’s friend used to move away when Dad came in, but now stays sitting next to her through his visits.

    It is pleasing to know that Mum is happy, cared for and has friends to chat with. Reading your story suggests that yes, we should take it each day as it comes and get the best from Mum when it is there, particularly Dad who is most affected. I can accept your acceptance of ‘the other woman’ where your beloved husband and his new friend are both suffering dementia.

    I dont know how to best help Dad with the situation he now seemingly faces (how I feel about it is different to Dad). He is reaching out to us (his daughters) for help, as he does not want to, or know how to reach out further (ie with other partners potentially experiencing marital challenges because of alzheimers). He is constantly fighting thoughts of separating them or accepting it.

    Will accepting it be okay? What if this man tries to take the relationship further than friendship? How can we as her family let something like this potentially happen? How do I help my father (who really isnt very good at taking advice anyhow!)? I would appreciate any thoughts or feedback.

    • mebwoodacre October 10, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

      Janine,
      Thank you for sharing your challenging situation with me regarding your mom and dad. Yes, this is a difficult piece of what can happen with one of the spouse’s having dementia and living in a facility. I am fortunate, at this point, that my husband still knows me and recognizes me as his wife or “his lady.” He still cheers up the moment I walk into the room and I enjoy every minute of this NOW because I realize it can change on a dime as the disease progresses. The challenge right now is with the responses I get from the other woman/women who think my handsome guy is their husband/s. Ernie seems so unaware of their attraction to him and simply treats them in a friendly and gentlemanly manner.

      Regarding your mom’s situation with the other man, one suggestion that I can make is to have an open conversation, as a family, with the staff regarding your concern. I did that and the facility handled it very well to redirect Ernie and the other woman to separate areas and activities when they could. They stopped having them sit at their own table-for-two at meals. The staff continues to keep a close eye on the relationship and that has helped for the time-being.

      As far as discussing this with your dad, that might be an even tougher task. I would involve him with the open conversation with the facility regarding the issue, if not in person, at least through family discussion reporting your conversation. Share the plan that the staff has in dealing with the issue so that he knows everyone is on board with your request. I do find that in well-run facilities, the staff deals with this more often than we know and are familiar with the appropriate actions to take.

      I am very aware that there may come the day that Ernie no longer recognizes me and I dread this. All I can continue to do is to enjoy each moment of the now and try to stop looking for what is next. This has been my toughest lesson!
      I will be interested in hearing how things work out for your situation. Remember, we can all learn from each other.

      Please know that my heart and prayers are surrounding you and your family for a positive outcome.

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