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Dear Amy: My wife has advanced dementia.
After four years of being her sole caregiver, I had to place her in assisted living memory care last year.
After five months of psychotherapy and antidepressant medication I’ve finally conquered my deep guilt and sense of having failed her.
Time has shown it was the right thing to do. Our 55-year history together and our four children have faded from her memory.
That is the source of my dilemma. Our high school graduating class has a virtual group on social media.
I wrote about my wife’s dementia and my loneliness without her.
Last week I received an email from a woman with whom I had a lengthy, very steamy, lusty affair in 11th grade, suggesting that we might re-establish our acquaintance. We haven’t communicated since we went our separate ways, many decades ago.
I am sorely tempted to accept her suggestion.
I have a photo of us at our prom, my arm around an exceptionally pretty girl in a strapless gown who liked to make out in secluded places. She played my teenage libido like a yo-yo.
I know it’s a fantasy memory. She’s probably gray, wrinkled, and overweight like me. But still….
I haven’t responded yet because I took an oath of fidelity to my wife “until death do us part,” which I have honoured.
But I wonder if her dying brain doesn’t meet that standard?
Am I not entitled to some happiness, even as my wife descends into a deepening fog?
Can you help me?
– Extremely Conflicted Husband
Dear Conflicted: Your decision to place your wife in a memory care facility was so agonizing that it sent you into a serious depression. You were wise to seek therapy and treatment.
If you override your own values and respond to this assertive advance, your mental health would likely be affected. Discuss this in therapy (use your therapy to discuss your choices in advance, versus responding to events after the fact).
Communicating with old friends from high school will help you to reconnect with the man you once were, before this disease took so much from your family.
But any person who would respond to your report of grief and loneliness by immediately implying a sexual reconnection is once again “playing your libido like a yo-yo.”
Elder libido is strikingly similar to teenage libido. The rush of attraction feels dangerous and wild.
As long as you don’t abandon your wife, I don’t view this situation as adultery, but I believe that your emotional needs would best be served by a relationship that is supportive, kind, and careful.
Yes, you absolutely deserve some happiness, but you should be discerning about where you are most likely to find it.
This might be the kind of trouble you long for right now, but keep in mind that any relationship you engage in could have far-reaching consequences for your entire family.
Dear Amy: Some of my loved ones are going through difficult times.
It breaks my heart. I’m helping out financially and being emotionally supportive, but it doesn’t seem enough.
I’m so sad. I’ve heard the term “emotionally detached,” but can’t seem to separate myself from their pain. Now it is affecting my health.
Dear JW: One aspect of healthy detachment is the realization that while you can – and should – be supportive and compassionate, you lack the power to change the course of many human events.
Detachment is a humbling surrender to reality, and if you achieve detachment, you will start to love people “through” their painful trials, with no overwhelming attachment to a specific outcome. The frail person may not survive their illness, the house might wind up in foreclosure, or the divorce might happen, despite your efforts.
You becoming overwhelmed and ill with worry will not help anyone – in fact it lowers your own capacity to be of service. In this context, your deep attachment to your own thoughts is making you ill.
Meditation and training on how to feel your own feelings and then let them go will help you to regain your strength.
Dear Amy: I was extremely disappointed in your response to “Open Minded Daughter,” who discovered she was conceived via sperm donation, even though her parents had never told her.
You should have blasted her for contacting her DNA donor before talking to her parents about this!
Dear Upset: The culture of privacy/secrecy in her family led her to take matters into her own hands. I understood her impulse.