Last week I encountered something I never, ever thought I would encounter in a million years … my ex-husband was ill and on the verge of being homeless. I had come to learn about this through my son who was adopted by my ex-husband after we were married. I have had very little contact with my ex since our divorce in 1989 … he wasn’t present in my son’s life after that. But did start reaching out to him later in my 36 year old son’s life.
My son called very concerned about his father and asked me “Momma, what should I do? I want to help him and pay back the times he helped me out.” My answer, “What does your heart tell you to do?” Of course, my son, a very sensitive and compassionate man said, “I need to help him.”
So, what is a Momma to do?
She jumps in being just as concerned as her son to make sure this person of whom she spent a significant amount of her life with is cared for. I needed to assess the situation, which was totally devastating considering my ex was always a hard working provider to his family. I didn’t want my son to have to handle this on his own, considering he’s a recovering addict. I was concerned the added pressure of caring for an aging parent would interfere with his recovery.
So, my son and I got to work … we made appointments at the Medicaid and food stamp office, we secured temporary housing for him and made sure he had a social security disability attorney in place as his doctor’s have deemed him disabled. We spent copious amounts of time talking to him on the phone (we all live in three different states) giving love, kindness and positive aspirations to keep him moving forward. In the process of all this, my ex-husband found a church that he wanted to start attending. He feels he needs to re-visit his faith in God and reconnect with the church. My ex-husband has no family except my son and I … he’s alone in the world at age 60.
Fortunately, we have crossed over the emergency line and have him in a stable position. Things are looking up for my ex-husband. As flabbergasted as I was over this situation it really brought us all together once again and that makes me happy. My son is extremely happy about rekindling his relationship with his father and vice versa. In a time of darkness, the light did shine through and blessed us all.
Becoming my Ex’s Caregiver kinda freaks me out!
Since the emergency has settled, it got me to thinking … I’m very likely going to have to become a caregiver to my ex-husband. This is something I had never even dreamed of … which lead me to research the topic.
A New York Times article states:
In scenes exhibiting a vivid range of feelings — acrimony, compassion, rekindled love, abiding friendship — sick and dying Americans are being cared for by former spouses.
Hospice workers, academics and doctors say they are seeing more such cases, a development that is not surprising given the nation’s changing demographics in the last 30 years.
The number of older Americans who have divorced and are not remarried has risen more than 60 percent in the last decade, according to the census bureau.
It goes on to further state:
“They are acting more like a brother or sister, or cousin or extended family member, or sometimes they have the joy of being grandparents together,” said J. Donald Schumacher, chief executive of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, a public policy group representing hospices. He said the presence of former spouses at the hospital or deathbed, isn’t uncommon anymore.
SOME social workers said that most typically a woman cares for her former husband. That may be explained by cultural norms but also by women outliving men. In 2003 there were 1,704,000 divorced and unmarried woman older than 65, compared with 1,082,000 men, according to the census.
This totally blew me away … never have I ever even thought of the notion that I would somehow become my ex-husband’s caregiver later in life.
Another article published by NBC News states:
But while divorced women caring for former spouses may be becoming more commonplace, the reasons behind the trend are as complex as the machinations of love itself, according to a new, small study released by the University of Missouri.
The study, which focused on 10 divorced women who had become caregivers for their ex-husbands, found that the women were spurred by a host of motivations, including altruism, guilt, and, perhaps most important, the need to protect their children.
I have to admit, my first motivation was to protect my son but after much thought I felt I had an innate duty to care for and protect a man that I once loved, who cared and protected me and my child in the early years of our lives. I had no ill will towards him especially after the passing of time and would only hope that if I ever found myself in the same position he would do the same for me. Which he confirmed. “he would go to the ends of the earth to take care of an ill ex-wife who he, too, had loved and protected.”
Science Daily reported that a study conducted by the University Missouri-Columbia found:
The concept of women as caregivers for their ex-husbands is largely unexplored,” said Teresa Cooney, associate professor in the College of Human Environmental Sciences. “To date, our study is the first to examine this form of caregiving. Initial findings suggest that it is more common than expected and that the experience is highly variable for caregivers.”
Cooney and Christine Proulx, MU researchers in the MU Department of Human Development and Family Studies, are examining the experiences of women who provide care for their ex-husbands. In the study, the researchers conducted a series of telephone interviews with caregivers throughout the U.S. and identified unique characteristics and motivations of these women and how caregiving affected their relationships.
… “Some women reported caregiving as a turning point in relationships with their ex-husbands,” Cooney said. “These women experienced positive interactions as they helped their former husbands, which seemed to buffer the challenges of caregiving. Although pleasant interactions are common among more traditional caregivers and their recipients, we didn’t expect to find this in a study of ex-wife caregivers. Several women noted that their ex-husbands had ‘softened’ during illness and there was less conflict.” …
But, what of the married woman?
As you can see most of the research focuses on women who were not married at the time they were called to care for an ill or dying ex-husband. But, what of the married woman? This question changes the landscape slightly, doesn’t it? Based on my Google searches there is nothing that I can find that discusses the married woman called to care for an ex-husband.
Even in the most conventional of caregiver situations, i.e. aging parents, disabled children … caregiving can have a negative impact on the relationship between caregiver and spouse. In some cases, this act of caregiving can lead to separation and even divorce. The stress, financial responsibilities, time away from your own family can be overwhelming not only for you but for your spouse as well. But, caring for your ex-husband brings a whole new list of problems to the marital relationship:
- Fear of losing your wife,
- Loss of quality time planned for your retirement years
- Rekindling of a love lost, perhaps
I was especially concerned about the impact this situation would have on my current marriage. The last six years of my life have been spent as caregiver to both my mother and sister after their cancer diagnosis as well as caring for my son and nephew who were addicts. Luckily, our 20 year marriage made it through those instances but I have to say by the skin of our teeth. It was not always a smooth road for us.
Enter the ill and virtually homeless Ex-husband
I was perplexed, to say the least, as to how my husband would react to this news. I didn’t discuss it with him at first. I wanted to gather all my facts as to my ex-husband’s current situation before I approached my husband. After confirming that my ex, indeed, was alone with no one to care for him, had lost everything he work his entire life for and deemed disabled by his doctor I then discussed the situation with my husband. I explained that:
- I felt a responsibility to my child and my ex-husband to assume this role
- I believe that after spending an extended period of my life with this man … no matter the demise of the relationship … it left a heart bubble on my heart. You just can’t forget a love once had.
- I couldn’t leave this solely as a responsibility for my recovering addicted son
- I am human with a compassion for those in need, no matter the situation
- There is a positive side as well … I felt like a dark cloud had been lifted from my shoulders. My son was rekindling his relationship with his estranged father. Something I know has weighed on his heart all these years. I have had extensive conversations with my ex-husband about our relationship and its demise which I carried with me all these years.
After this conversation with my husband … the only thing he had to say was
You are a natural borne caregiver in this world … you are compassionate about life and the people in it … you have all my support and love to travel the road that you were meant to travel … if I were to stop you it would most certainly be the demise of our own marriage because you stand strong to your own convictions … you WILL do what you think is right no matter what I say and today I say I support you, love you and am so very happy to have shared such a blessed life with someone as compassionate and loving as yourself.
After that, all I can say is I cried like a baby knowing that once again I was plunged into the caregiver role with the love and support of my husband who had never left my side during times such as these. I am truly blessed to have such a special and amazing husband to share the rest of my days with.
If your ex-husband had no one else to care for him in his later years would you be willing to assume the role as caregiver? I’d really love to discuss this topic in the comments.
See you in the comments,