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What is my obligation to my husband?

Was I obligated to give up my life for Robert’s? This was the question I asked in my last story. This was the moral dilemma at the center of my ruminations. The answer to this query would inform many decisions I’d make in the years ahead. 

Either or?

I was on leave from work. I could not go back to work and continue to care for Robert. Caring for my husband and my high-intensity career were incompatible. After 2 ½ months at home, I decided to explore placing Robert in a memory care home. I was nearing the end of my FMLA respite and I wasn’t even close to figuring this out. 

First I needed to negotiate more time. I could no longer leave Robert alone while I worked, and I couldn’t work and evaluate placement options for him at the same time. I reached out to Jude in HR, my friend and colleague of many years. Would it be possible for me to take additional leave, unpaid? (Additional paid leave was not an option. My period of Paid Family Leave under California law was rapidly closing.)

Jude made quick work of securing additional time off for me. My management team was understanding of the challenge I faced and wanted to keep me. I had time to breathe until mid-July. I began my exploration in earnest.

Where does the truth lie?

In the weeks that followed, I had many conversations in which well-meaning friends assured me that Robert would be “better off” in the care of trained professionals.  While there is a lack of definitive data about this assumption, some studies suggest people with a dementia diagnosis do, on average, live longer in care homes.

But would Robert, the person (not just his body), really be better off in a facility with other memory-impaired individuals? I didn’t believe he would. Robert would love being home with me, and love being part of the family mix, however limited and nonsensical his participation. 

Ultimately, life is about the choices we make

But I did not want to give up my own life, however, I defined that life. Whether I was working, or retired and charting my course, I did not want to be occupied in the tedium of of 24/7 housework and caregiving for the rest of Robert’s life. (Life expectancy for FTD patients is, on average, six to eight years from diagnosis but can be as long as 20 years. In 2021, we were in year four.)

After several more weeks of reflection, I chose to place Robert in a memory care home. I chose my own life over the ongoing toll of caring for him. I answered the question of my obligation in the negative. No, I was not duty-bound, not morally compelled to give up my life for Robert’s. 

I chose me. 

4 thoughts on “What is my obligation to my husband?”

  1. Thanks Sharon. I continue to appreciate your thoughts and insights. Especially in light of my own experience with the long illness of a loved one.

    1. Thank you, Dena. I have learned a lot in the process of writing about this journey. There are so many, many decisions we make along the way. I don’t know that I would have abstracted these decisions and really examined them if I wasn’t writing. We face so many tough questions.

  2. For several years my grandmother, who worked as a nurse in a traditional nursing home, cared for a disabled and mentally challenged young woman named Jeannie. My grandma loved Jeannie and cared for her very well often going above and beyond for her by providing homemade food and blankets, as well as buying her clothes and small gifts in addition to the physical care required by her job as a nurse. (This was the 80’s.) As much as my grandma loved Jeannie, she said to us all the time, “It’s too much for one person or even a family to care for someone in that condition at home. If I ever become unable to care for myself, please put me in a home and do not feel badly about it. I don’t want to burden you like that, it’s too much.”

    One person isn’t physically or mentally equipped for that kind of constant demand with no reprieve. You made the right choice. I know it was agonizing and still haunts you, but I hope you can let go of that. Professional caregivers understand the immense burden and they get to go home when their shift ends and take a break. Love you. 😘💔

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