The Unexpected Conflict between Vows and Mental Decline
One of the most agonizing decisions that any spouse can have to make is whether they are abandoning their Vow, their oath before God, to care for their spouse through “sickness and health” when the mental function of their spouse has declined to the point that full time custodial care is the only responsible solution. In fact, this fundamental commitment is what leads many seniors to an early death themselves when providing care for a loved one with Senile Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. The answer can only be had in the heart and mind of the caregiver. But, after 40 years of dealing with these cases, I offer the following.
- The promise you made was to provide care for your spouse, that is to say, the person you have known your spouse to be. The disorders above often render persons incapable of being themselves, incapable of being the persons they once were. While this should not be an excuse for just tossing away a beloved, it is not entirely the case that your original vow encompassed the person, unknown to you, that mental disorders have brought into existence.
- Your spouse made the same commitment to you. It cannot be that sleepless nights, fear, physical challenges, and debilitating stress suffered by you are encompassed as acceptable within your spouse’s commitment to your health.
- Part of caring for anyone, in sickness and in health, comes in knowing when someone’s needs exceed your ability to care for them. Often, the only responsible thing to do is to bring resources on duty 24/7 and 365 to bear on providing care. That means a nursing facility.
Deciding to place a spouse in Long Term Care is not, and should not be, an easy decision. But, sacrificing yourself to deal with issues that were never contemplated when the vows you took were originally conceived is not the logically required choice.