After 46 years of marriage, I can say I have a husband who is the same guy he always was, just with more life experience. But among my small circle of friends, including my blog friends, many women are dealing with extraordinary changes.
It may be true that, overall, women are as likely to develop dementia as men (see study) and present their husbands with unexpected caregiving challenges, but so far those stories are not the ones I’m hearing.
A college friend married to a brilliant scientist who has known for some time he was developing Alzheimer’s recently told me, “I finally realized he is completely dependent on me.” She is biting the bullet, reaching out for more helpers and planning an altered future.
Another friend whose husband has dementia made the decision to leave behind all her East Coast activities and relocate to Minnesota, where there is a network of family members. She intends to keep her husband in their new home, which has become a safe place in his mind. When her husband no longer recognizes anyone at all, she says, she will get full-time care, move herself out, and come visit him.
I reconnected last month with a high school friend who suffered a bitter divorce decades ago. She told me her ex’s wealthy girlfriend has been able to provide high-quality care for him for the 15-plus years since he was diagnosed with dementia. Although the divorce is still raw enough that there are topics my friend can’t discuss with her children, she goes to the Alzheimer’s facility regularly to read to her ex. She wants to become a better person.
Dementia has not been the only challenge for women I know. In one case, after a relative discovered her husband’s multiyear dalliance with a blackmailing call girl (and he then suffered a physical and emotional collapse), the wife made heroic efforts to rebuild the shattered relationship. A year later, they are both enjoying life together a little more every day.
Then there is the friend whose husband’s rare disease progressed to the point that he can no longer be left alone. She has had friends come in for an hour or two so she can shop for groceries and walk the dog, but the cost of a few hours coverage from a trained home-health-care aide has to be parceled out frugally as this friend has lost one income, is trying to build a home-based career, and needs to pay for two children’s colleges.
I can’t say enough about how much I admire these women who are rising to meet unanticipated disruption despite their sorrow and fear.
Art: William Utermohlen
In 1995, U.K.-based artist William Utermohlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He created a series of self-portraits over five years, before his death in 2007. (Caution: This is the first in the series. The others may be painful.)