Frank and his wife, Claire have been married for 63 years. Frank was a minister and Claire was a school teacher. She retired in 2000 and took up some tutoring work. As the years went on, Frank could see some warning signs that Claire’s cognitive ability was changing. The tutoring became too challenging. “It’s like our minds are filled with hundreds of sparkling lights, and I could see some of hers’ fading, one by one,“ he explains.
Frank cared for her at home for several years. He’d bring in help from time to time. He had home health help with bringing her to the doctor, and he had people come into help with the house and the yard. But it got to the point where “they were barely existing.” Frank goes on, “She took care of me all those years, and now I’m trying to take care of her.” He knew she needed more than one person could provide.
The timing was just right as Commonwealth Senior Living was opening their Sweet Memories neighborhood in Charlottesville, just 15 minutes away. The community included independent living and assisted living as well. So Frank was able to have a suite just down the hall from his wife in Sweet Memories. She was one of their first residents in October of 2015.
Being in this atmosphere has been a real plus for the couple. Besides the benefit of no longer worrying about household tasks, Frank has a balance between getting time with his wife and getting time to himself to read and recuperate with the peace of mind knowing that she has a team of caregivers 24 hours per day.
When Frank was caring for Claire on his own, he felt isolated and alone as so many caregivers do. Now, he is able to join the monthly Caregiver Support Group to talk with other spouses going through the same journey. He talks with her caregivers regularly about any changes she’s going through. The ups and downs are still just as emotional. But there is a team in place to support them both.
A few months ago, each time Claire saw Frank she would say, “I love you. I love you. I love you” over and over again. Frank believes she was preparing for the time she would no longer be able to say it. She’s lost most of her verbal ability now. But she has moments when she speaks just a few words. The other day she looked around at the other women in the room and said to Frank, “Look, but that’s it.” Frank laughs and shakes his head.
When asked about how they’ve been able to enjoy such a long and happy marriage, Frank closes his eyes and explains. “Love is a many splendored thing. It changes over time, but stays just as firm. You have to adjust to the changes. Recognize each other’s strengths. Lean on each other, and keep an abundance of patience.”
He says that their marriage now feels like long distance love. It’s still there. It just makes you go deeper in your faith.
His advice is to take care of your plans for senior living far in advance of needing it. Make sure your will, power of attorney and medical directives are all established and documented. He also made sure that his lawyer, accountant and family all stayed in touch with each other. “It feels good knowing that you have a full team looking out for you.”