Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Love and the Single Elderly

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I've been proposed to twice this week!

It's not an uncommon occurrence to have an elderly gentleman respond to our "working" relationship by wanting to make it personal. They usually start off with, "You have a husband at home?".....

"No," I usually reply. It's best to keep the answers simple sometimes. No need to turn the focus on therapy off of them.

Of course, even that one-word answer can give an old man hope!

"Marry me!"

I have to admit, it always makes me smile. I soften the blow by telling them that I'm like a bird flitting from place to place, not a good choice for someone who is settled down. They take the bad news graciously.

It made me think about being single, old and wanting love in your life. I can count on several hands only (from my 16 years as a therapist) the number of couples who have been married 50-60+ years who look at and treat each other as if they had just fallen in love. I have a patient right now who has that kind of relationship with her husband.


Most single older people I know want to be connected intimately to a partner. I'm referring more to an emotional connection, though some want sex.

I worked with a new patient today.  Ginny is 90. We share the same birthday which created an immediate bond. She told me about her long, beautiful marriage to her husband which ended four years ago with his death.

"I have a boyfriend now.  Carl should be by to see me later."  Her eyes twinkled with joy and mischeviousness. "He is 38!"

"Wow!" I thought. I wouldn't mind a 38 year old boyfriend, either....then I laughed silently. That Ginny is spunky!

"So, Ginny, is Carl....a helper?"  I wondered if her intermittent confusion may have skewed the story.

"Oh, he helps me around the house, takes me to dinner. He's my love interest, too."

(Would you blame me for questioning this?)

I saw Ginny's son later in the day. He stopped by to see how her treatment was progressing. I asked him, "Is there a man named Carl in Ginny's life? She's telling me he is her love interest."

Her son replied, "Well, since she just introduced me as her husband, I'm not surprised!"  He told me that there was a Carl. He rents a room from Ginny, and he does, indeed, help around the house. He had already visited her at the facility.

I never really got the "skinny" on whether Carl really has the hots for Ginny, but I did find it supportive that this young man would visit an elderly lady at the nursing home.

I have witnessed the most interesting of relationships that grow, from residents who meet and marry in nursing homes, former staff and patients who come together after the treatment is over, and strange couplings of people who come in for short term rehab.

I'm not in any position to judge a person's relationships. There are relationships that outsiders may not understand, but it's not for anyone else to understand the bond except for the two people involved.

Tonight, I raise my tea mug
to all those lucky old people
who have spent a lifetime
with someone they cherish.
I raise a prayer for those who are sad and lonely.
I appreciate those who reach out to others around them
with companionship and a smile.

What will it be like for us when we are old?
With whom do we want to be?

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