Friday, September 3, 2021
What Happens When You Are "Widowed," Not by the Death of Your Spouse, But By Alzheimer's?
New York Times Magazine has an Ethicist Columnist and recently the topic was "My Stepdad Has Alzheimer's. Can My Mom Date Someone Else?"
The adult child who raises the topic explains that her mother was a long-standing, full-time caregiver for her husband, who's early-onset diagnosis of Alzheimer's had deepened to the point that he was transferred to a more appropriate, assisted-living setting. Lonely and missing companionship, the mother began dating another man. On the one hand, the ethicist was tackling the concern about the appropriateness of the couple "dating." The deeper concern, however, appeared to be that the man the mother was dating might not be a good choice, and potentially even an unsafe choice, and the family disapproved.
On the question of "dating" while still married to a spouse with dementia, the ethicist, Kwame Anthony Appiah (who teaches philosophy at NYU), makes the startling, but apt, observation about de facto widowhood:
Making sure that a spouse is cared for is one commitment that marriage entails and, having served as a full-time caregiver, your mother has clearly done so, at real personal sacrifice. But we should not want our spouses to abjure the companionship of others once we are no longer available to them. Indeed, nobody in your family has the right to expect this of her. The painful truth is that her status is ethically equivalent to that of a widow.
The comments posted after the article in response to the ethicist's discussion are also interesting, including what sprang to my mind, a recommendation of a sensitively-made movie directed by Sarah Polley, based on the author Alice Monroe's novel with the same title, Away from Her.