Should I choose husband or Dad with Alzheimer's, who is 120 miles away?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

My Mum died suddenly aged 69 some three months ago and now my father, who is 80, is living alone in the family home. While he is very fit and gets around fine at the moment (infact he gets more exercise than me!), he does get lonely in the evenings, and I am worried because I live 120 miles away with my husband. Dad has no family at all nearby - we are his only family. My husband cannot move nearer to Dad due to his job, which is highly competitive. I am an only child who had older parents who I loved very much and who were (and are) the best parents in the world to me and gave me everything. I promised myself I would look after them when they needed it. Mum had serious health problems, but I still thought she would live to old age and I would look after her. I never got the chance. I am 31 with no children. I feel that I made a massive mistake by not settling nearby to my parents when I left home at 19 for university. I feel I let them down. Instead I followed my then boyfriend (now husband) round the country after university as he pursued a very competitive job (he's a barrister). It took him 7 years to train for and chase the career (after countless interviews) during which time we lived some distance from my parents and both worked full-time. While I saw them regularly (one weekend in 3 or 4 and holidays), it wasn't the same as being nearby and popping in regularly. If only I had lived closer and met someone here with a different job, I would have been able to help Mum and Dad and might even have a family of my own by now! I feel so awful now Mum has died, as we were so close - we all had plans for Mum and Dad to move closer to us once we finally were settled and knew where we would be, but Mum died unexpectedly just 6 months before we could make it a reality - and before I could give her the grandchildren I really wanted to give her. I never meant to live so far away from them, but my husband couldn't get a job near them. Now my husband has finally secured the job and career he has worked so hard for in a city 2 and a half hours away from Dad. After Mum died I really hated and resented my husband (and myself) for making me choose and for forcing me to let them down, for the first time in my life. My Dad says I have not let them down at all - he is lovely and only wants what is best for me. But at his time of life I want to look after him - I failed Mum, I'm not going to fail him. I wish I was down the road and could pop in on Dad every few days as this would be the best solution, but I can't. It would be so sad to move Dad from a lovely family home he has been in 50 years, with local connections and friends to live with us somewhere he doesn't know 120 miles away, but I also want him to be near us as we are his only family, so he won't be lonely and so we can spend quality time together and look after him as he gets older. My Dad and I are very close, he also gets on very well with my husband, and I hate to think of him so far away. We are currently in rented accommodation as my husband doesn't want us to buy for another seven months until his job is confirmed. This stresses and irritates me greatly, as it is not as if I can offer Dad anywhere to stay with us. My husband isn't keen on Dad living with us permanently, though he has talked vaguely about him staying with us for long holidays, or living nearby. What to do? Do I stay with my husband and buy a house in the new city (which I hate, incidentally, and don't even know anyone there myself) with enough space for Dad to live too (or maybe he could get a house nearby)? That way I could have half a chance of having babies and give Dad grandchildren. But what if my husband changes his mind? Or, do I walk out of my 3-year marriage to move closer to Dad (or move in with him), which would cause a great deal of stress (not least to Dad), and leave me potentially alone and childless? We had thought about Dad maybe splitting his time between the family home and our house (when we get one) but I would worry about him driving back and forth such a long distance, so I would want to drive him myself (and how would that work with babies?) There is no way I would ever let Dad be looked after by strangers, but at this stage it's more about companionship and making sure he's not isolated. What should I do?

Expert Answers

Brenda Avadian, brings knowledge, hope, and joy to family caregivers for loved ones with Alzheimer's and dementia. She cared for her father with Alzheimer's and helps families one-on-one and in groups. She is the author of eight books, including the pioneering memoir "Where's my shoes?" My Father's Walk through Alzheimer's and the Finding the JOY in Alzheimer's series. She presents vivid, compelling, and funny keynotes to both professional and family caregiving audiences.

You raise several issues here as to whether you should choose between your dad with Alzheimer's or your husband.

One, your father is 120 miles away in his home of 50 years and you feel he is lonely, yet you don't want to pull him away from his friends.

Even with your boundless love for your Mum and Dad, what do you believe your mother would say today if she learned that you feel you made a "massive mistake by not settling nearby to [your] parents when [you] left home at 19 for university?"

You mention that your dad doesn't feel you've let them down and that he wants what's best for you. This is the wish of all kind-hearted loving parents for their children"”to know that they are secure and happy.

Two, you spent all those years with your boyfriend who then became your husband to secure your future together. Are you now questioning your relationship? If you walked out on your husband, you'd have only your father. It takes time to build a new relationship. You admit that you could be left alone and childless.

At age 31, you've invested years in your current relationship and want to start a family. Yet you want to look after your dad. I get the impression that your loving heart yearns to care for another human being"”whether this is your father or your children.

Three, at some point, when your dad can no longer manage alone, you'll have to make a decision how to care for him. Why not make this decision now while he is still able to function? (You write that he still drives.)

  1. Start by having him spend some time with you and your husband or move him closer since he gets along so well with you and your husband.

  2. If it's only seven months, consider having your dad stay with you for a couple weeks at a time then return to his home. You could certainly drive the two or three hours each way once a month.

  3. After a few months, other options will come to you; for example, your dad may consider selling his house and contributing to a larger home for you and your husband with private quarters for himself.

Take steps now and you will have your dad's company in this new city without him giving up his home right away. Together, you can experience the joy of his grandchildren.

I feel a lot of stress in your words"”being pulled every which way and not knowing which direction is best. I imagine, while you feel the stress of caring for your dad, your husband feels stressed about his career. Two stressed people under one roof? Aaaaaagggghhhh! Realize this and take one step at a time.

Just as you have faith while driving in the dark that the road extends beyond your headlights, have faith that venturing along this uncertain journey will uncover options you have not yet considered.