A friend of mine’s mother died last month from complications of Alzheimer’s, a horrible disease. Her husband of almost sixty years had shielded the family of the early stages until her condition could no longer be kept a secret. He was suffering from his own health issues but he had taken care of his wife, the mother of his children his entire life.
This was an old school relationship. Married right out of high school, she had never worked outside the home and had never paid a bill. Her job in this marriage was to raise the children, clean the house, cook the meals and worry, everything else her husband handled. She was a master of her responsibilities, particularly the worry part. This woman was the best worrier I have ever met.
As her disease progressed her husband realized he could no longer take care of her but he fought this realization to the bitter end. It took a Doctor, treating his wife, to tell him that if he didn’t take care of himself he could potentially die before his wife did. Reluctantly he agreed to place her in a facility but given their financial situation it was not the one he would have chosen for his dear spouse. He was not happy with the care they provided, the attention they were giving her, so he filled in the gaps.
For one year he spent everyday with her. Arriving at 7 am to have breakfast, leaving at noon to take care of what needed to be attended to, returning at 2 pm and then leaving at 7 pm to go home. One year of sitting beside her, one year of talking to a woman he had shared his entire life with but who was slowly fading away. His own health was worsening, he had watched his weight his whole life and walked every morning rain or shine before work. But as he told me one evening when I brought him a meal, he would take care of her until the end because that is what he was supposed to do, it is what he had vowed to God he would do.
My wife and I were talking about him last night, that I need to cook something to take to him. She said that as much as she hates to think about it she would not be surprised if he passed away soon himself. I asked why, I knew his health was shaky but now he had more time to focus on himself. Her answer was very simple “Grief”. This man had spent the vast majority of his life taking care of this women. It was a partnership, a collaboration that produced a home, children and grandchildren and now, in his mind, his work was done, his partner was gone.
I thought about this in bed last night. My wife and I have been married for thirty plus years. We have had our bumpy moments like any marriage but our partnership is not divided by who does what. My wife works outside the home and has since we were married, though when the kids were around she worked part-time. I clean, I cook, I wash clothes (my clothes only and I am no longer allowed to ruin anyone else’s but mine). I do pay the bills and I do mow the yard but short of that we share all the other responsibilities. My one caveat is I don’t do blood so mending cuts, pulling teeth, etc. my wife had to take care of those jobs.
If I die before my wife does I am confident that she will be okay. She is a strong and independent woman that will be able to carry on. She will have much to live for, children, maybe grandchildren, a family and community that needs her. She knows her way around a checkbook and can hire someone to cut the grass. I hope she will be sad, but for a short time not forever.
Likewise, if my wife passes before I do I will be okay. I can do more than heat soup in a microwave, I won’t change the bed sheets as often as she does or wash the bath towels but I know what I need to know to move forward. I would miss her and I would be grateful for our time together and what we produced but I would want to enjoy those fruits of our labor and I know she would want me too as well.
I will go visit this man in a day or two and bring him a meal. I will spend an hour or so talking with him about his health, the weather, college football, life and his wife as I have done in the past. I am not in a position to give him advice, to tell him he needs to move on, enjoy his children and grandchildren and what time he has left. But I will listen, I will hug him, and I will tell him that I love and respect him because this man made a vow sixty years ago, a vow he believed, accepted, honored and completed.