Elder abuse at the end of long-term marriages

Elder abuse can happen between long-term spouses
Elder abuse can happen between long-term spouses

One of the biggest challenges with getting old (and there are many) is that you start to lose your history, and your sense of place, when your people die.

Your sibling dies, and there goes someone who knew what you ate for sandwiches as a child. Who followed you around, or whom you tried emulate. With whom you fought.

Your parents die, and your childhood goes with them. Your long-term friends die, and the people who know your stories, who have shared the events of your life, are no longer there to say “remember when….”.

The people who know why you think the way you do – who will call you when you need it – aren’t there anymore.

Imagine now what it might be like to be married to someone for 30 years. 40 years. 50 years. 60 years.

Think of that wonderful “I’ve found my person” feeling that happens at the start of a Cinderella story – the romance, the love, the lust. Now think of how this relationship changes over the years. Perhaps you hope for children, and they come. Or you hope for children, and they never come, or they do not survive. How do you help each other through that?

Perhaps you have a great career, or struggle financially. Perhaps your spouse and you change together; perhaps you do not. Perhaps you are faithful to each other; or not. Perhaps you share a faith-based life; perhaps not.

Individually you may share some of these things with a sibling, or a parent, or a friend, but your spouse is the one that will know most, if not all of them.

Your spouse is one of the few people that will see you at all hours of the day; at your best and at your worst. You will know each other in ways that no one else ever will.

You will certainly love your spouse, but you will not be “in love” with your spouse every moment of every day. And you come to learn that that’s okay. That’s part of the evolution of a long-term marriage.

Imagine the sheer guts and will-power it takes to keep a relationship going through boredom, anger, hate, loss, indifference…. How hard it is to say “I am more angry with you than I have ever been with anyone else in my life. In fact, I actually HATE you right now. But marriage is a verb, so I stay, and we figure this out”.

At some point in your relationship, no matter how independent you are, you will stop being “you”, and you become “we”. You hear your spouse’s thoughts and voice in your head just as much as you do your own. You spend hours sitting next to your spouse without saying a word out loud, but still knowing what they are thinking.

You have a physical and emotional connection to your spouse that becomes part of your DNA. Even if you spend the day in a different room of the house with them, or in different buildings, or sleeping in different beds, you know where they are. You can feel their presence. They are an anchor for you. A literal part of you.

Now imagine your spouse, this part of your DNA, is coming to the end of their life. You have been told that your spouse has a life-limiting illness. A life-ending illness. A degenerative disease. There will come a point where you will lose them, mentally, emotionally and, eventually, physically.

Much has been written about what happens to the surviving spouse after their spouse has died – how to plan a funeral; how to arrange legal affairs; how to cope with grief; how to try and face life without your spouse. Depending on your situation, your outlook, and who else might be there to help you, you may learn to cope. You may learn to build something new for yourself. But this loss may be one you don’t survive, and you know that.

Not much has been written about what happens about the time between finding out your spouse will die, and the time they actually do die. How do you cope with the suspicion that your spouse has a problem? A big problem? How do you seek medical attention? How do you cope with the diagnosis? How does your spouse cope with the knowledge that their life will end? How do you help them with that? What happens when you start to see the effects of this illness in your lives? How will you cope?

Most of us think we will be saintly; that we will be patient and kind. That we will be loving, and respectful. If we’re lucky, that will be the case.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

			November 3, 2018 2:46 pm 
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