How do my Alzheimer's husband and I celebrate our 64th wedding anniversary?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My husband who is 88 yrs. old has been in assisted living for just 3 months due to Alzheimer's.

My question is: We've been married for 63 years and our 64th anniversary is fast approaching. Since I am almost a widow, How do we (I) celebrate and recognize the occasion?

Expert Answer

Ron Kauffman is a certified senior advisor (CSA), senior lifestyle radio host, syndicated newspaper columnist, and the author of Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer's Disease. In addition, Kauffman is also the primary caregiver for his mother, who has Alzheimer's.

I'm sorry for the difficult situation in which you currently find yourself, because there may not be any easy or satisfactory answers to your question. How we deal with major occasions such as wedding anniversaries, birthdays and other family-related events when one's spouse has Alzheimer's disease is almost totally dependent upon the patient's levels of social appropriateness, cognitive skills and situational awareness.

In your question about how to celebrate your 64th wedding anniversary, there wasn't a great deal of information about your husband, but your comment that you are, "...almost a widow." indicates that you may, after these past months made the decision to move on with your life, and that's absolutely okay.

It's important that you fully realize that no one but you is walking in your moccasins. There are no right or wrong answers or decisions, only the opinions of others, including mine. So whatever you choose to do is right"¦for you, and you are not required to feel guilty about your choice, whatever it is.

Here are the suggestions that I have as to how you might approach your 64th wedding anniversary with your spouse now living with Alzheimer's disease in an assisted living facility:

  1. If your husband is at a moderate to severe stage of Alzheimer's disease but your feelings and those of your family are that regardless of your husband's illness, this is an occasion that warrants recognition or a small celebration that includes your husband, then by all means celebrate. Be sure to talk to the staff at the assisted living facility ahead of time about arranging a location for you and the other family members to gather and celebrate.

When the celebration is held, as painful as it may be for you, particularly if your husband no longer realizes the importance of the event or fails to recognize people or forgets their names, you can tell him that it's an important day, and that you and he have been married for a very long time, and you still love him. Then give him a hug and a kiss, enjoy some cake or one of his favorite treats, and know that you did all you could to make him part of what, under different circumstances and happier times would have been a cause for celebration.

  1. If your husband is still able to be socialized and is appropriate for an excursion outside the facility, you might consider having your friends or other family members assist and take him home or to a place that is still familiar to him and hold the celebration there.

I do suggest that you keep the event duration short so as not to tire or overwhelm your husband, and to allow him to enjoy this small dose of normalcy with friends and family.

  1. There is one other possible choice that comes to mind, and it's based on two factors: (a) the level of your husband's memory loss and (b) your own feelings and ability to make some very tough decisions.

If you husband no longer remembers you nor recognizes you, the idea of celebrating with him an event where his role is solely part of your memory, not his, you might decide to do what Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor did concerning her husband.

You may recall that her husband was institutionalized with advanced Alzheimer's and no longer recalled that he was married to Justice O'Connor. In fact, he had found a "girlfriend" at the facility where he lived. As difficult as this must have been for Justice O'Connor, she chose not to fight the unbeatable disease, and with love and I'm sure, a great deal of sorrow, released her husband to live out his new life in his current situation and mental state. In essence, she too made the decision that regardless of the fact that the man who was her husband was alive, he was gone, and she was an Alzheimer's widow.

As I stated, there are few good answers or solutions to your dilemma. And, and the only solution that matters is the one that you choose. Regardless of the choice you make, no one will fully understand your pain. Alzheimer's disease isn't fair, and the only rules that matter are those that allow you to live with yourself.

Talk to your family, but ultimately it's you who has to decide what is best not just for your husband, but for yourself. Once you've made that decision, release yourself from any guilt knowing that whatever you do is the very best you can do. God bless you and good luck.