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Caregiver. Can You Be A Good One…Again?

Widows searching for senior men partners often ask: “What if I fall in love and then he gets sick? I nursed my husband through his long, final illness. How could I possibly do that again?”

I’ve thought an awful lot about this, because I too was a caretaker to my husband until his death. We were married 30 years. But there are many women who have enjoyed only a few years with new partners, and nevertheless opt to see them through serious and even fatal illnesses. On the other hand, I know two women whose circumstance caused them to make decisions NOT to stick around.


The moment Stephen and Mimi met they felt they’d been struck by lightning. In mere weeks they were making plans to marry.  Their luxury honeymoon was a gift from their adult children, who were thrilled to see their widowed parents partnered once more.

Four months into the marriage Stephen began having bouts of fatigue and dizziness. He felt weak. His vision was blurry. Medical testing revealed a degenerative disease for which there is no cure. The prognosis was grim. In a few years Stephen would need 24 /7 nursing care.

Mimi had cared for her first husband throughout four years of terrible illness. For a long time after his death Mimi had shied away from new relationships, and she had been attracted to Stephen partly because he had seemed so healthy.

Mimi wrote to me, “I cannot do this again. Louis was my partner for 32 years, but this man — ? I barely know him.” She left Stephen, and the leaving was not easy. He raged bitterly. But his daughter took charge of his care with a remarkable lack of resentment.  She seemed to understand Mimi’s conflict and her motives.


When an older woman has been a long-term caregiver for a dying husband, memories of such an experience can be searing. Some years ago Agnes, my neighbor, married her podiatrist. The two were in their late sixties and both were widowed. They seemed quite happy for a year or so; then an illness incapacitated him and she abruptly walked out. Well, not so abruptly. She took time to visit him in the hospital and, peering through a forest of infusions, tubes, and wires, made her announcement to him there.

I reacted with anger toward this woman, and I still disagree with her decision. But after nursing my own husband through a ravaging illness, and after talking to friends like Mimi, I have some perspective on her choice. Agnes had been a devoted caregiver during a long and intense period of her life — almost 15 years. She regarded her remaining years as precious and didn’t want to spend them with a man she had married for companionship, not dependency.


I have asked myself more than once: could I leave a man who was about to need me in fundamental and important ways? If I had shared at least several contented years with such a man, I absolutely could not and would not (I hinted at this in an earlier post).  If the span of our love was only a matter of months? I would stay, but it’s impossible to know if I’d do so without rancor and regret. Like Mimi and Agnes, I know that caring for someone you’ve loved for decades is worlds away from nursing someone new.

Being well into the second half of our lives changes the way we feel about lots of things, including men and relationships. We’re choosing more carefully. No complainers, no misers, no compulsives, no brutes, no sloths, and no one with a (known) serious illness.

But there’s this, too: we can be the ones who become ill. Before we get all huffy about not wanting to be caregivers, we must remember that we may be the ones who need to be taken care of.  How does it feel that our guys should be able to opt out, too?


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'Caregiver. Can You Be A Good One…Again?' have 16 comments

  1. June 10, 2016 @ 1:16 pm Caregiver. Can You Be A Good One…Again? | Yury Z

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  2. April 10, 2016 @ 6:26 am Caregiver. Can You Be A Good One…Again? | RJamesBuhr

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  3. March 13, 2016 @ 9:58 am Caregiver. Can You Be A Good One…Again? | Glo Knows Why

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  4. February 14, 2016 @ 9:45 am Sienna

    LeeAnn — From the outside, when we long for someone to care for, it looks like insensitivity. But I hear from many women with long caretaker histories who decline – for myriad reasons – to stick and stay a second time.

  5. February 11, 2016 @ 4:02 pm LeeAnn61

    I have been alone for almost 20 years after having a husband die after a long illness. It makes me furious to see that women are so selfish as to run away from a fine person who needs help. I would give anything to have a man who needed me. Its hard to get old in your 60s without love.

  6. February 11, 2016 @ 12:12 pm Sienna

    There is no obligation to live with abuse. You did the right thing by transferring him to his children. It’s good that you paved the way for their understanding.

  7. February 11, 2016 @ 11:58 am Freida B.

    I just got out of a relationship with a man who needed my care but was abusive. We weren’t married but we lived together. I was careful to explain my reasons and let his children know that it was impossible and they believed me. It shows the value of getting on with the kids so that when this happens no one hates you.

  8. March 11, 2014 @ 4:04 pm Nan

    Taking care of an old man is hard. They are too demanding and time is short. If this was a longtime husband I wouldn’t feel this way of course, but I don’t want to marry again.

  9. January 17, 2014 @ 8:05 pm Marilyn Taylor

    I’m partial to the idea of a healthy man. I couldn’t do this. That’s why I won’t engage for the long term. I want to be free. If I get sick, my kids will take care of me.

  10. July 30, 2013 @ 3:53 pm Sienna

    Alicia — Yes, we evaluate a potential partner on other criteria (honesty, warmth, generosity), and it doesn’t hurt to think about his capacity for compassion.

  11. July 25, 2013 @ 2:22 pm Alicia

    When you meet a man at our age you just have to think “what would I do if he got sick.” But you’re so right, Sienna. The sick person could be me. Would this be the kind of man who would stick with the relationship? It’s something you never thought about the first time around.

  12. September 3, 2012 @ 6:26 am SZion

    I was a caretaker twice with both husbands, and I feel great holes were scooped out of my life. I would like to find a younger man who won’t have health issues. You make a good point about how the woman may become the sick one who needs care, and that’s even more scary than getting involved with another sick man.

  13. August 30, 2012 @ 2:18 pm Cherise

    I hated Mimi there for a minute, but when I tried to put myself in her place, I became more than sympathetic. Nice job, Sienna. This is something we all have to think about.

  14. August 23, 2011 @ 10:43 pm Sienna

    Dear Anonymous, you are in a sensitive situation and your dilemma is a difficult one. I urge you to seek counseling from a professional who can help you sort your feelings out. You should do this as you can. You need to make a decision — one that will not leave you feeling torn about chosing one spouse over the other and guilty for lying to your present husband.

  15. June 20, 2011 @ 9:23 am anonymous

    This story has some important things for me to think about. I am a caregiver to my second husband who hasn’t much longer to live. He told me he has bought two cemetery plots so we can be buried side by side. I already have a plot next to my first husband. I lived with him for 29 years and he was my biggest love. I have been married to my present husband for only 5 years. I think it’s proper for me to be buried next to my first husband, but I don’t want to tell my poor dying husband that so I act like I’m going to do what he has asked. By the way, I know it looks awful that I am here on your dating site, but I stumbled on it by accident and I like some of the things you say. I am not looking for another man.

  16. June 9, 2011 @ 9:25 am Tracey

    I know a woman who divorced her husband after 36 years and then met a man who told her he had a disease but it was in remission. They married and shortly after the disease came back with a vengeance. She stuck with him, but mostly it was because he had been honest about his not having a clean bill of health. I don’t think she regrets this.

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