(skip this header)

New Canaan News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

newcanaannewsonline.com Businesses

« Back to Article

Husband's life seems empty after mother's death and his retirement

Published 11:48 am, Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Larger | Smaller
Email This
Font
Page 1 of 1

Q: My mother-in-law passed away a year ago after a long and difficult fight with Alzheimer's dementia. Her son, my husband, is a successful professional who used to be consumed by his job. He would work all day and most evenings. Even when taking vacations he was never fully able to relax.

To his credit, we all benefited from his dedication. Our kids went to the best schools and our daily life was free of worries. This all changed when my mother-in-law got ill. She was diagnosed with dementia in her late 80s. At the end of her struggle, he had to retire, although he did not want to. Organizing her care had become such a chore that he had to stop working. I continued with my job and am still working.

Since my mother-in-law died, my husband has lost all will to enjoy life. Initially, I thought this was normal behavior, but now I am truly worried. What should I do?

Dorothy

A: Losing your loved one -- be it a parent, spouse, friend, or a child -- is always very traumatic. The normal process of grieving can take months and different people express it in different ways.

Some of us keep our sorrow locked in, while others express it. As a rule, we start being somewhat worried if the grieving impacts a person's daily life and function. In the case of Dorothy's husband, there is also the element of being a caregiver -- dedicating yourself to your loved one entirely and then dealing with emptiness when they are gone. The process of caregiving can consume you entirely. It can reduce you as a person, to the point where you no longer remember the life you had before the caregiving started. My co-workers and I often worry more about the families of our patients than about the patients themselves.

To make matters even more complicated, Dorothy's husband is a professional who dedicated himself to his work and then dedicated himself to his mother. Retiring was a necessity. Now there is a human need to be useful again.

My advice to Dorothy would be to have a calm, honest conversation focusing on the fact that she loves her husband and worries about him. It can be also done by a friend or a trusted family member. Hopefully, that conversation will result in her husband agreeing to talk to a professional. I would then ask her husband's primary doctor about depression and nearby bereavement groups.

The next step would be to try doing something together, preferably centered on helping others.

The last part would be to slowly introduce some fun activities into your life. Attend a concert together. Take cooking classes or dancing lessons. Taking a vacation together may help as well.

Do not get discouraged by the occasional small set back. Even after a major personal loss, Dorothy's husband has his life ahead of him and she will help him see that.

Dr. Beata Skudlarska is a Bridgeport geriatrician. Send questions to Bridgeport Hospital Center for Geriatrics, 95 Armory Road, Stratford CT 06614 or geriatricmd@aol.com.

People travel, take on new hobbies or resurrect old ones. They join book clubs, dancing clubs, walking clubs you name it. Some go back to school for that degree they always wanted. Many volunteer. Hospitals, nursing homes, libraries, schools, shelters all welcome extra help. By giving our time and effort to help others, we can sometimes find that fulfillment we seek.