Living With an Ill Spouse

August 01, 2017


By Linda Howard

What would it feel like if after 40 years of living with your husband, you woke up and realized the person laying next to you in bed no longer resembled the man you married? Sure, it’s the same body, but almost everything else changed.

We all change over time. It’s normal, to be expected. I was shocked years ago to learn that my husband’s political views had moved to a place where we had little in common. But at least we enjoyed stimulating, well-informed arguments.

After a few years of marriage, learning about his hobbies surprised me. I found them totally foreign but over time, they changed from a huge pain to little more than an annoyance. Maybe he wasn’t as involved in raising our child as I hoped he’d be, but at the end of the day he was a great provider. He held a steady job for years.

I was a lucky woman.

Then suddenly life changed. My husband had the first of four strokes 18 years ago. The first and the most recent were the biggest. But the last one, nearly a year ago, was by far the most life-changing. While you wouldn’t know he had a stroke from his physical appearance, he suffers from aphasia — an inability to any longer think big thoughts. (Aphasia is partial or total damage to your ability to speak or understand words as a result of brain trauma, damage, or injury.)

Now even he calls himself a dull boy. This man who with his eyes closed could assemble a rocket ship with a screwdriver and a roll of tape could no longer figure out how to take the new shower pole out of the box and install it on the bathroom wall. He couldn’t remember our zip code, telephone number, or his age. I’ve become a he, our grandson a she, and the dogs are lucky. They don’t care what gender he thinks they are.

So begins the grieving process, one without an end – at least not one I can see. Grieving for the man who’s no longer the one I married. Grieving for the loss of plans, hopes, and dreams for our remaining years together. More than anything else, I grieve the loss of an equal partner.

That’s the hardest part, this equal business. I doubt he ever saw this as a fifty-fifty relationship. He arrived at the tail end of the World War II generation. Me? I’m a liberated baby boomer. He always thought of us as a man in charge couple. I humored him. Sound familiar? There’s no humor in it any more. He’s come to terms with his limitations but I’m still grieving. It was one thing to be fifty-fifty or even sixty-forty. It’s a different world to live in a relationship that’s ninety-ten.

Grief is a funny thing, not ha-ha funny but funny in that look at the lady who slipped on a banana peel type of way. Only now, I’m the lady who fell.

I decided to cope with my grief by giving myself permission to laugh, cry, feel cynical, sad, or angry. I allow the full range of emotions to wash over me and they do — every day. It’s taken years to realize that the dream for my life I had as a girl won’t be mine. But the life I’ve I’m leading embodies in many ways parts of that dream. And as long as I keep feeling my feelings, some is good enough for me.

From the desk of Melody Beattie
Originally posted 2010

Note: As much as Melody would love to respond to all comments, this sometimes isn't feasible with her busy schedule. Please feel free to leave a comment but do so knowing she will only be able to respond when she has some time away from writing. She does receive your comments and deeply cares about what you have to say so please do leave a comment if you are compelled to do so.

CAUTION: This is a public website and any comments made are visible to the public. To preserve your privacy, I highly recommend you post as an anonymous name. You can update your DISQUS settings by following these instructions.