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

by Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer

(Page 1 of 4)

Marriages that last for a lifetime are rare and precious. Older couples have experienced joys, weathered many storms and have endured the tests of time. Understandably, the impact on the marriage relationship can be overwhelming when advanced care forces one spouse to move to a care facility, causing a separation.

Most caregivers strive to keep their loved one at home for as long as possible, yet that fateful day may come when long-term care is unavoidable. This most often happens when a spouse’s safety and medical needs have reached an unmanageable level or the caregivers own health and well-being have become jeopardized. Initially, the difficult decision to move a loved one may be taken out of the caregiver’s hands by either the physician or other family members. Oftentimes caregivers find themselves relieved to have been spared from making this unthinkable decision. Nonetheless, facing this day of change takes great courage, strength and many adjustments.

The Struggle of Separating

Betty and John were married 57 years when John fell and broke his hip. Following hip surgery, John went to the nursing home for routine therapy. A previous stroke at the age of 48 had significantly weakened his body; thus, he was now unable to rally and achieve mobility again. For the past 30 years, Betty had physically and emotionally stood by John through a myriad of serious and even life-threatening medical issues. Sadly, this final incident was the impetus for their physical separation and John would not be able to return home.

Arnie and Jean were best friends and were married for over 50 years when Jean began to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Arnie faithfully cared for her over the next three years. Then a 24-hour vigilance began when Jean became incontinent, would not sleep through the night and began wandering away from the house. Arnie brought her to the hospital and, upon evaluation, she was transferred to an assisted living facility with a security system for her safety.
The ravages of Alzheimer’s disease also separated Nancy and Jim who had been married for 48 years. Jim paced the floor and attempted to leave their apartment every day to catch a ride to “go home.” When his behavior could no longer be redirected, Jim had to be moved to a local assisted living home where he received 24-hour supervision.
These spouses faced an unwanted separation when their loved one needed full-time care and could not safely remain at home. All three are now on a new journey, facing this time of transition, adjusting to living alone and seeking optimism for their futures.

The First Months

Caregiving can end so abruptly that the caregivers are overwhelmed by the drastic changes. Living in “limbo” apart from a lifemate can be one of the most difficult events that couples will ever face. This time of transition may be met with both resistance and acceptance. Life as they know it has ended and a new chapter is unfolding with each day. The marriage is strongly impacted and couples face many struggles and challenges, especially in the first few months.


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