When my father and paternal grandfather were alive, my father promised my grandfather
that he could live in our home until he died. The idea was that my grandfather wouldn’t have to
go to a nursing home. This promise had to be broken when my grandfather began to put
cigarettes out on the top of his hand. My father felt incredibly guilty at breaking what he felt was
a solid promise but it was obvious that my grandfather needed greater care than what we could
My grandfather stayed in the nursing home for about nine years before he passed. My
father went to visit him daily. In nine years, there are 3,285 days. I don’t believe my father
missed a single day. My father taught me many lessons in life. During that period of time, my
father taught me about commitment and love of family.
In this past week, I’ve been visited by a man who has had a love affair with his wife for
70 years. They were high school sweethearts and to my knowledge, they remain sweethearts to
this day. His wife suffers from dementia and he feels incredibly guilty even thinking about
putting his wife in a nursing home. But – his wife is doing things around the house that is
causing havoc. Things are coming up missing. Things are being hoarded. His wife doesn’t
always feel safe in the house. She trembles and shakes. There are moments of lucidity but they
are becoming more and more – fleeting.
I feel for the wife and I feel for the husband. The husband is feeling a wide range of
emotional responses – both positive and negative. I realize that care-giving can be very
rewarding, but it is obvious that it can be extremely stressful. I see the husband as being
frustrated. I even see anger. I’m told these emotions are understandable, but I feel for him. The
husband feels powerless. He is used to fixing things but this thing may not be fixable.
I am going to encourage the husband to speak to someone about what he is feeling. I’m
going to try to find a support group for him. What else is there to do when the person you love is
fading away from you minute by minute?
In my family, many of my loved ones have died suddenly and unexpectedly – generally by
heart attacks. In my father’s case, death lingered. I watched a proud man brought to his knees by
a stroke. I found my father’s death to be agonizing and demoralizing.
When my father-in-law was in the nursing home, biographies were written for each of the
residents and they were posted outside the door. I read each one. The man or woman in the
room – lying in the fetal position – had indeed lived an extraordinary life. It was hard to
understand why the ending had to be so sad and melancholy.