Tag Archives: nursing home

What the “other woman” can be…

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.

Hugs,

Tami  🙂

The Conversation of Alzheimer’s and Being Selfish

Regardless of who in your life has Alzheimer’s, once you hear of the probable diagnosis – your attitude towards the disease changes.  We all know it’s a horrible and devastating disease.  When we hear of a friend, colleague’s or even an acquaintance’s family member who has it, we are sympathetic and express our heart felt sadness and concern.  But when it’s someone who is close to us and/or our family member, it strikes a different chord.

Being a nurse, I realize that this is true for just about any devastating disease.  But when we first hear, “Alzheimer’s”, our thoughts, more often than not, go to a fear that the loved one will, at some point, not recognize any of their loved ones including themselves.  With that thought, one might think that our fears are selfish.

While the thought of not knowing my children (if stricken with Alzheimer’s) strikes a fear so deep in me that I can’t put it into words, I think I find some comfort in the thought that I would soon be incognizant to the world around me and find solace in knowing I’d be lost in the world that one goes to when stricken with the disease.  But the thought that I could be face to face with my own  mother (if she were to ever be stricken with Alzheimer’s), for example, and not be able to see and feel the connection of  mother and child, is a pain that I wouldn’t be able to hide from.  It’s a pain that I couldn’t escape and that is terrifying to me – as I am sure for most people at that thought.  So to feel one’s own fears when it’s someone else’s disease makes you wonder if it is a selfish thought.

The definition of selfish, according to Merriam-Webster:  having or showing concern only for yourself and not for the needs or feelings of other people.  Then the answer, in my opinion is – no.  I don’t believe that one is to feel that they are selfish when wrestling with their own fears at having lost their identity in the eyes of their loved one.  Because, although we are worried about the day when our loved one can’t identify us, we are genuinely worried for them as well.  Therefore, the feeling of guilt (which arises from feeling that one might be selfish) should be allayed in knowing that we all have needs during a time of devastation, no matter who the actual victim is…because we are all victims when Alzheimer’s strikes.

As long as we are walking the road with a victim of Alzheimer’s, we too will suffer.  And that’s ok to talk about.  It’s ok to have needs of our own.  It’s ok to ask for support.  It’s ok to think of yourself and your own feelings when your heart is breaking.  But more importantly its ok to have the discussion(s) now.  Now when no one around you is sick.

Give your colleagues, friends, and/or family the “o.k.” to feel whatever they may feel if you are ever incapacitated with any illness.  Ask for the same from them.  The conversations need to be done, well in advance of receiving any diagnosis so as to make it easier for the ones who are, often, denied their own grief because they aren’t the one actually battling the disease.

Because when it comes to a disease like Alzheimer’s, we are all in the battle.  We all play a role and we all hurt.

Hugs,

Tami

Shining the Light-Repost

In writing my book, “Bleeding Hearts”, I hoped to shed light and possibly start the conversation on the sensitive subject of a spouse “moving on” when his or her loved one is stricken with a debilitating disease such as Alzheimer’s.  While I understand that not everyone has the same ideas or feelings on the subject, I feel strongly that no one should judge anyone else for following their heart in search of taking care of their own needs while attending to their partner’s needs.

While I have said (and will continue to say) that I believe that the ultimate victim of a disease like Alzheimer’s, is the victim who carries the diagnosis themselves.  I pose the question: What about the “other” victim(s)?  What about the spouses and/or partners of the diagnosed patient?

Along side their partner, they too suffered through the horrific diagnosis.  Having dreams of their future with their loved one, shattered as well.  After the heinous diagnosis, they are faced with grim conversations of decisions that they will, ultimately, have to face.  While the disease takes hold of their loved one, the partner is made to feel a myriad of emotions like fear, sadness, etc. while their loved one slowly slips away, into a world of their own.  Once the Alzheimer’s victim is lost to the world of silence, the partner is then shut out.  They are left to live on making decisions that no one should ever have to make for another and witnessing the continued assault of the disease…alone.

When I came into Eric’s life (we met on a dating service), his wife had been “gone” for quite some time.  She was in hospice with the diagnosis of “early onset Alzheimer’s” and was only showing few glimpses of recollection to anyone or anything.  His eyes were sad and mournful…soulful and deeply hurt.  I could feel his loneliness before he said anything about his beloved wife, Gaye.  And once he told me the despairing story I could understand why, almost immediately, he presented this way to me.

Eric was encouraged by his family, in particular his beautiful daughter, to move on and find someone to be happy with.  While he entertained the thought, he didn’t feel ready.  It was when he was ready that we met.  Our relationship blossomed and I quickly realized that I would have a major role in the story of him and his wife; a woman whom I had never met, but came to love because of him and his love for her.  But because Eric chose to “move on”, all the while continuing to respect and love Gaye, he was once again faced with distress because not everyone agreed with his decision.  Shame was then added to his myriad of emotions.  Why should he, or anyone, be denied comfort during such a time?

Being able to be a source of comfort to him, in these darkest of days, providing love and support -leads me to think of a song by one of my favorite country bands Sugarland, “Shine the Light”…  “And when your worries, they won’t let you sleep and rob you of your days.   And you’ve looked in all directions but you still can’t find your way.  Or when you just need someone to remind you that it’s all gonna be okay…I will shine the light.”  For it is in those darkest days that the spouse/partner of an Alzheimer’s victim needs to be reminded that there is and can be light at the end of their painfully dark days.  And that  they should be left to do so, without shame and/or judgment.

Hugs,

Tami

Clarifying “Bleeding Hearts”…

When a family is stricken with Alzheimer’s, there are tears, broken dreams and broken hearts.  My book’s title, “Bleeding Hearts” refers to the pain that is endured with the diagnosis.  But it also refers to one of the favorite flowers of the Alzheimer’s patient in my story.

My book is the story of the painful journey we traveled with a family member who had early onset Alzheimer’s.  In re-reading the book (one last time before it goes to press) I’ve realized how many people were eventually affected by this single person with the disease.  Multiply that by the millions of people around the world who have to suffer such a journey and if only a few could read this book, perhaps it could help some others get through their struggle.

There are no magic books or magic words to help someone in such a struggle.  But comfort might be found in reading the way others deal with similar obstacles.  Magic doesn’t exist, at least I don’t know of any, so we all move through our lives the best we know how and hope that at the very least, we’ve learned from it and at the other end of the spectrum, that we’ve helped someone else learn.

Additionally my hopes, with this book, are that a foundation would be set up in Gaye’s (the person who had Alzheimer’s in the book) name to help give support to the family members of the one who has Alzheimer’s.  For the truth of the matter is, the person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is the patient/victim.  But it’s not long before the victim is living in a silent world without knowledge of who they or the ones around them are anymore, so their pain has, somewhat, ended for them.  So you see, in my opinion it’s the families of the victims who suffer the most.  They are the ones who have to painfully witness the deterioration of the mind, spirit and, eventually, the body of their  loved one.  They are the ones who have bleeding hearts.

Until next time,

                 Hugs,

                           Tami  🙂

Judge not…

I’ve always lived by the biblical teaching of, “judge not, lest ye be judged”, but it was never more clear to me what that meant than when I traveled this journey.

From the moment I walked into the nursing home for the first time, to meet Eric’s (my husband) wife (Gaye), there were stares, prying eyes and judgments made without a single word being spoken.  The attitudes of the staff (of the nursing home) quickly changed from cheerful and happy while speaking to Eric, to condescending and cold when they  realized I was with him.

All they saw was a young-ish (I look young for my age so I’m sure it appeared I was even younger than the 10 year difference between Eric and I) girl with a man who was still married to a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s.  What they didn’t see was that Eric was smiling and looking forward to each day since he met me as opposed to living in a world of loneliness and grief.

They had no idea that his children were the ones who wanted him to “move on” and find companionship and that his own daughter set up his profile on Match.com.  They had no clue of the endless nights Eric sat in his home (the home Gaye desperately wanted because she fell in love with it) alone with no other companion other than his dogs…night after night.  Faced with pictures, clothes, innumerable items still in the house that all belonged to Gaye, all as constant reminders of what she was reduced to and how unfair it all was.  The staff had it in their minds that they knew what he was doing, he was abandoning his wife.

Oh contraire!  Eric had been a dutiful husband.  Took care of Gaye, at home, for as long as possible.  When it became impossible and she had to be put into a nursing home, he spent night after night with her until she felt comfortable enough so that he could leave her there.  In the beginning, Eric visited Gaye daily and brought the staff doughnuts every weekend.  His visits only wained because of the heart ache of having to witness his wife’s deteriorating health.

The staff’s treatment and/or judgment of my role in all this was that I was the “other woman”.  Although I had never met Gaye before this nursing home visit, I was put into their (Eric, Gaye and the rest of the family) lives as someone far more significant than the “other woman”.  Being a registered nurse, I was there to aid in sharing information with Eric and his family about medical treatments as they became faced with them.  I was there to help brighten Eric’s life and in turn brighten his children and grandchildren’s lives because they knew that he was, finally, going to be ok.

The greatest gift I could ever receive from sharing my journey, in the form of my book, is that people become less judgmental of families in similar situations.  That we all truly think about walking in one another’s shoes before we pass judgment.

Until next time..

Hugs,

Tami  🙂