A woman whose wife had been suffering with Alzheimer’s disease for six years went on a silent retreat. She had been through a grueling time and wanted to rejuvenate in the beauty of the New Mexican high desert. She planned to receive spiritual teachings, journal and sleep.
In the van on the way to the retreat center (and before silence started), she noticed a woman who looked interesting sitting alone. She plopped down next to her and they began talking.
They had much in common. The other woman’s mother had Alzheimer’s disease and she had been her primary caretaker. They both were relatively observant Jews with complementary interests in movies, art and music.
One night, the two walked back to their cabins together and shared the infinitely starry night.
But they returned to their lives, corresponding by text and occasionally seeing one another.
The texting continued and they went to another silent retreat together. The woman caring for her partner had effectively been alone for years, and she and the woman from the retreat embarked on a relationship.
You probably have guessed that the Alzheimer’s caregiver who started a new relationship is me. While I’ve shared this information with those closest to me, I’ve kept it from readers of this blog until now.
A recent article in U.S. News & World Report, however, inspired me to come out. (The link is below.) The article begins: “It’s private and few people discuss it openly. Couples who’ve spent decades together as lovers and equals – husbands, wives and partners – increasingly take on the roles of caregiver and patient as Alzheimer’s disease progresses. Sex and emotional intimacy give way to an all-consuming responsibility. During those difficult months and years, the still-healthy partner may ache for someone with whom to talk, share a restaurant or movie date or have a physical relationship.”
I wasn’t looking for a new relationship when I met P. If I thought about it at all, I figured I would outlive J, my wife who has suffered with Alzheimer’s disease for at least eight years, and then, if I was lucky, I might meet someone else.
No one was more surprised than me when P came into my life. Yet it has always felt bashert (Yiddish for “meant to be”), which doesn’t mean it has always been easy — for me or P.
I am not the only Alzheimer’s caregiver who has unexpected found new love, but most others I know keep quiet about their new relationship. I understand. My children and in-laws have been amazingly accepting, but I have lost a couple of friends who can’t seem to adapt to my new relationship. In my less evolved moments, I would like them to spend some time in my shoes (although I wouldn’t really wish that on anyone.)
How do I reconcile my life now? There is a Talmudic story of two great rabbis, Beth Shammai and Hillel, who argue about contradicting views of Jewish law. Each insists that he holds the correct view. They can’t both be right, or can they? A voice from the heavens announces, “The utterances of both are the word of the living G-d.” Both views have merit.
This story informs my thoughts about my situation. I am able to hold my love for J and my love for P. They are both great blessings.
So why not stay silent? Isn’t there enough confessional literature in our culture to last a lifetime?
I have written this blog post for me, for P and for you. P is a big part of my life now, and I felt dishonest not acknowledging her. It also can’t have felt good to her to be referred to generically as my “friend” when she is my great love and partner.
But mostly I write for the others in similar relationships who think you have to hide. In my experience, living with a secret is always corrosive. I hope you can find your voice and find acceptance among your friends and family.
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