As the “other woman”, in my book “Bleeding Hearts”, I attempt to give the reader a perspective on how the other woman (or man) could be of support for the spouse of someone with a debilitating disease like Alzheimer’s. So that others can see how an outsider can be of great support during such a time.
As a society some are often so quick to judge what is right and what is wrong with a persons actions in such a case. Attempting to open conversation by writing the book, I put myself in just such a position of being judged right alongside the spouse. The looks and stares I received from the staff of the nursing home were difficult to bare. The discussions among some of my colleagues and some acquaintances were equally, if not more arduous to hear. I believe I am able to grasp where those emotions came from; the sympathy for the Alzheimer’s patient herself. And while I understand the compassion, one has to realize that my role was out of compassion for Gaye (the Alzheimer’s victim in my book) as well as for her husband and family so it didn’t matter to me what anyone said or felt. I see my role as a blessing, one that has enriched my life forever.
When I took on the role of “the other woman” for Eric, it was, in the beginning, out of the love I had for him. I was falling in love with a man in this situation and I didn’t let it scare me. I knew what I could be for him and his family, if they would let me. I knew that I could love them and try to comfort their pain. I could give them “light at the end of the tunnel”, especially for Eric. And it was during this process I fell in love with his beautiful wife Gaye as well.
My role led me on a journey of unconditionally loving someone I had never met. Gaye and I never met until one day in the nursing home, well after she had lost all her memory. But because she was Eric’s wife and mother of his children, how could I not love her? And because I did, I made it a priority to keep the memory of the “real” Gaye alive, because this was one of the most important parts of my position.
When I moved in with Eric, I put up family pictures of Eric and Gaye, their children and grandchildren – all over the house. To remind everyone, including myself, that Gaye was not to be forgotten. I made sure her prized Christmas decorations were displayed, year after year, so that her love of Santa statues would be seen, as well as, felt by everyone. I visited her often in the nursing home, to give her updates on the family so she would not be excluded. I took her gifts on special days. And at Christmas I brought her a poinsettia and sang Christmas songs to her, all the while holding her hands and stroking her hair. I did all of these things out of love. The love I had for Eric, his family and for Gaye.
And as for Eric? I gave him joy. He was able to feel joy again after having nothing but sadness and depressed days for such a very long time. I helped him remember Gaye as she was before her illness. I reminded him, often, to hold on to the memories he had made with her before her illness. While I couldn’t erase the pain, I could certainly help him realize he was still alive and to embrace life again. Something his daughter has thanked me for so many times.
So when anyone judges me or Eric, they have no idea of the whole story. The story of what I was doing for him, his family, Gaye and/or for myself. They only looked from the outside, refusing to believe that there was a reason for me to be there…for everyone. To love them, offer them hope of a brighter future, to help them keep Gaye’s memory alive. And if all of that meant I had to bear the title of “the other woman”, then so be it. It is a title I accept with grace. For I know what I was to everyone and I would do it again if I had to.