Alzheimer’s and Nurturing Men

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I was picking out apples at the grocery story yesterday when I noticed a woman having a kerfuffle over by the oranges. After she knocked over a small display, her husband rushed to her side and gently steered her away. As I picked up the display, I couldn’t help watching how he spoke quietly to allay her anxiety and confusion. Walking walked past him on the way to the spinach, I whispered, “You are a lovely man.” (To be clear I was not being flirtatious and he was definitely not lovely in any literal sense.)

A few moments later we found ourselves standing together by the avocados. I explained to him that I spoke to him because I wanted to make sure he got credit for the nurturing way he dealt with his wife. I said I understood his situation as a spouse caregiver myself. The look of calm that washed across his face was different that gratitude or relief, was closer to what I imagine war veterans must feel when they connect. We talked for maybe a minute or two and then I moved on before he could see that I had tears in my eyes.

One of those brief moments that reverberate and reverberate.

But it got me thinking, not for the first time, about how much harder it may be for husbands than wives, at least those of my boomer generation. We were a generation who adopted feminism but were not born to it. There was a lot of intellectualizing about women and men’s roles, but there remained an emotional pull to the way we were raised. The men, however “progressive” or “liberal” or even “radical,” paid lip service but under the surface, our roles only shifted so far.

So men now in their fifties, sixties and seventies with wives who are struggling with impairments are having to learn to nurture the way women in similar situations have known how all along. And men like my grocery store friend are stepping up. I am amazed at their openness about how hard it is and their willingness to go all out. Frankly they often seem more open and more willing than I am.

Like many a good feminist of my generation I have never been above a little vicious, resentful man-bashing, let alone husband-bashing. But this is my little shout out to the guys. We are all in this together.

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6 thoughts on “Alzheimer’s and Nurturing Men

  1. Yes, Alice, good for you to offer some support that I’m sure was much appreciated.

    I’m dealing with my own early onset AD, but as I may have mentioned in a comment months ago my first exposure to AD was because my mother had it. Mom and Dad were stereotypically of The Greatest Generation. Dad a Navy veteran of the Pacific Theater of WWII and the bread winner, Mom a stay-at-home wife and mother until we were all in middle school (although perhaps a bit of a feminist by the 1970s). Dad made John Wayne look like a bleeding heart. But when Mom developed AD in her 80s, Dad really stepped up to the plate. No one could have been more gentle and a better care giver than he was, inexhaustible, ever patient. I asked him once how he could devote himself so completely to her. He just looked at me like I’d asked the stupidest question he’d ever heard in his life and said, “Because I love her.”

    I’m sure that societal gender roles play a big part in who becomes a caregiver (especially whether it’s a son or a daughter), but the choice really is made by the heart. And that’s why caregivers are my heroes.

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  2. I think you’ve made a very good point that many men of the current older generations have been less oriented to caregiving than women. I also think we would all do well to be a bit more patient, tolerant, understanding when we see older people, especially, having such unexpected difficulties as you describe. Nice of you to validate the woman’s spouse.

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  3. What a lovely – and thought-provoking – post. I’m sure the few moments of connection you made with grocery man meant a great deal to him; just being recognised for what he’s trying to do must be a rare thing. I also chuckled at your last paragraph about resentful man-bashing. I do that, too, and yet when I was caring for dad my husband really stepped up to the plate. So I kind of know if he has to, he’ll care for me.

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    1. In the past I would never have spoken but age loosens us up. And I felt good afterwards knowing he probably had felt appreciated by someone, even a stranger. If your husband stepped up to the plate for his father-in-law (even a father-in-law who was pretty exceptional),he’s a keeper.

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