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by Abigail Van Buren

Husband With Wife in Nursing Home Needs to Care for Himself

DEAR ABBY: The letter from the man in Olympia, Wash., whose wife has Alzheimer's disease and doesn't even recognize him prompts me to write. Although he continues to visit her in the nursing home, he feels guilty about seeing the widow next door to him.

My husband and I were also childhood sweethearts, and we have just celebrated our 46th anniversary, too. As you reach our age, thoughts of just this sort of possibility occur.

It would pain me terribly if I thought for one minute that should I get Alzheimer's or some other debilitating disease, my dear husband would feel that he must also give up the rest of his life to sit by my bedside watching me "in a world of my own."

Obviously, this man was always a thoughtful and loving husband during their marriage. Perhaps he should try to imagine how he would feel if he were the ill partner. Would he begrudge her having some joy and comfort while he was oblivious to the world? I think not.

Please, Abby, tell that man he has no reason to feel guilty. If his wife could speak, she would give him her blessing and thank him for the last 46 years. -- MARY JANE SEGERSON

DEAR MARY JANE: I told the husband that a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a grief counselor or clergyperson could help him absolve his feelings of guilt, and that an Alzheimer's support group could also be helpful. But your letter gets right to the heart of the dilemma. Although not everyone is as enlightened as you, I am with you 100 percent. This does not reduce the responsibility of the well spouse to ensure that the loved one receives the best and most compassionate care possible. But life is a gift that should be enjoyed.