DEAR ABBY: I am a 66-year-old married man. My wife and I were childhood sweethearts and have been married for 46 years.
Six years ago, she developed Alzheimer's disease and has been in a nursing home for the last year.
Even though she does not recognize me or our children, I have gone to visit her every day, until six months ago when I reduced it to twice a week because she had no idea who I was, which I found very depressing.
The nursing staff and my children noticed my depression and encouraged me to "break away." As I reduced my visits, I wound up with a guilty conscience that is difficult to cope with.
My children have encouraged me to seek female companionship, something I had longed for, but I was concerned about what others would think.
However, for the last four months I have been romantically involved with a 62-year-old neighbor lady whose husband died nine years ago. We have taken a few trips together. My children and brothers and sisters enthusiastically approve of our relationship and say they have noticed a positive change in me.
Abby, my guilt feelings have increased even though I haven't changed my visiting routine to the nursing home. I would greatly appreciate your comments on my situation. -- TORN IN OLYMPIA, WASH.
DEAR TORN: I can understand your feelings of guilt. Fate has placed you between a rock and a hard place. You are a married man with an absentee wife.
A psychiatrist, psychologist, grief counselor or clergyperson could help you absolve those feelings.
If there is an Alzheimer's support group in your area, join it. There are thousands of support groups for caregivers of Alzheimer's patients, and the national office of the Alzheimer's Association (1-800-272-3900) will be happy to refer you.
Incidentally, on Oct. 5 and 6 in more than 200 communities, the Alzheimer's Association will hold its 1996 Memory Walk, the only nationwide event for Alzheimer's disease, to raise funds for caregiver programs.