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Posted: February 16, 2006

Spousal Caregiving

A Spousal Caregiver's Valentine Wish for You

Bill Andrew

In the gentle wake of Valentine's Day 2006, I wanted to share some of my personal thoughts with you -- as well as those of a reader. Valentine’s is a day to express our love for other people in our lives. Specifically, it is a day to express our love for those for whom we provide loving care -- our spouses.

As many of you know, my wife of almost 55 years, Carol, has late-stage Alzheimer's disease. That means that she is totally dependent upon me for all of her "activities of daily living" and has limited response capability. However, she still does respond to words of love, to tender touching, and to smooching (kissing, to those of you not acquainted with the word). I subscribe to the theory that the best way to keep your loved one "in our world" is by constant interaction with them -- especially those with Alzheimer's disease (and it appears to be working for her).

On Valentine’s Day, I told her that I loved her, that today was Valentines' Day and that she was my Valentine, and then I kissed her -- and she kissed me back with a big smile on her face. Now, if that doesn't tug on your heart strings, nothing will!

Valentine's Day is a day dedicated to express your love, especially to your spouse, and to celebrate the true spirit of love. A reader of this column, Richard Anderson, sent me the following testimonial that I wanted to share with you on this special day. Richard is the President of the Well Spouse Association, the only North American organization devoted to the support of spouses or partners of people with chronic illness and/or disability. Their motto is "When one is sick, two need help."


A Valentine to Spousal Caregivers

For 29 years, I was a caregiver for my late wife, and for years I did the caregiving without really thinking about it, except on occasion I would recall the words of the marriage vow, "in sickness and in health, until death do us part." Every Valentine’s Day I would buy her a card and a present, because I loved her. Just like every other romantic spouse, I thought.

She died of liver cancer in October 2004, and it is only now that I realize what a huge commitment we as "well spouses" make for our ill spouses or partners. Day in and day out we are there for them, doing what we can to help them cope with the problems their chronic illness or disability create for them, and all the while doing the mundane things of cooking, cleaning, shopping, family finances, and raising children, and often working as well, to bring in money to pay for the extra medical costs.

The thing we all have in common is that we have stuck by our mates through thick and thin. We are the people who didn’t leave when the going got tough. Indirect statistics suggest, depending on the chronic illness or disability, that a large percentage of marriages -- 60%-80%?-- break up when one of the partners develops long-term health problems. And these breakups happen right at the start of those problems, because the onset of illness or disability tends to intensify already-existing strains in a relationship.

Many of us find that the love has deepened with our mates, as their chronic illness or disability – the elephant in the living room – progresses and throws out new challenges for both partners. (See our previous column Ridding the Bedroom of Cancer's 'Elephant'. Others have found that the illness has produced so many changes, and losses in our spouses and in ourselves, that the person we are living with now is far removed from and unrecognizable as the person with whom we formed a life bond.

In our society, privacy is the hallmark of marriage. When chronic illness or disability strikes, communication between partners is vital, but not always easy, because there is an unequal relationship -- the ill spouse may grow more dependent, and the well spouse more burdened with keeping things going. Because partners don’t feel they can talk with outsiders about their problems with illness in the marriage and because friends and family don’t want to "interfere," the whole experience can become so very isolating for both. (See our previous column Where Have All My Friends Gone?.

I was there, and for me the isolation led to burn-out. Then I found out about the Well Spouse Association (, which helps people to be better spousal caregivers, by offering support, socializing and respite opportunities, and practical tips, too. For me it was a great relief to be able to talk about my situation and realize that I was not alone. And I had a renewed sense of commitment to looking after my wife.

So here’s my Valentine to spousal caregivers. Don’t let the romance die. And the best way to do that is to make sure we take care of ourselves. (See our previous column How to Prevent Caregiver Burnout . The motto of the Well Spouse Association says it best: "When one is sick, two need help."

Richard Anderson


Well Spouse Association


Words well-spoken! Many of my previous columns have addressed much of what Richard discusses above -- but he has pulled it all together in a very succinct manner. Hopefully, you have found some common threads in his testimonial that you can relate to and apply in your spousal caregiver life.

On this Valentine’s Day, as I do every day, I declare my love for my wife, Carol -- ALWAYS! Valentine’s Day is also the day for you to declare your love for your loved one -- your spouse. Please do it now if you haven’t already done so. May God bless you and your spouse…ALWAYS!

Have you told your spouse that you love them today? Do you tell them everyday that you love them? I DID! And I DO!


"There is no remedy for love but to love more."

Henry David Thoreau (1817-62)

Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at

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