Senior Second Marriages

Remarrying after the death of a spouse? At our age? I don’t understand it, let alone recommend it.  Just fool around.  Nobody cares.

The purpose of a marriage is to form the legal stability for raising a family. As Judge Judy often says, “We have this whole body of laws for married couples, but if you want to play house on your own, then expect the courts to sort thing out when the relationship doesn’t work out—it isn’t going to happen. Who gets the refrigerator, who paid for the computer? I don’t care—you’re wasting my time!”

In two cases I know well, everything began with the best of intentions, the best of expectations. They were going to travel the world, make new friends, pool their resources to have a wonderful home where their families would come to visit. Didn’t happen. Almost immediately, in both cases, one partner quickly descended into dementia, and the other partner was stuck as a nursemaid for someone they barely knew, had no lifetime of shared memories—of jobs, homes, families—to look back on. Their spouse’s problem was dementia, but it could have been any of number of other medical problems.

(One of the joys of my wife is that we go back so far together.  She remembers my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, even many high school friends—often remembering details I had forgotten.  All of this is in addition to shared memories of early apartments, first jobs, and of our children’s early years.)

Some problems should have been seen from the beginning. One widow, who had no house, or pension, or savings, met a widower who had all of this and more. But he had a lazy son in his 50s with spotty employment that he supported with a monthly check. When he was single, it was his money to spend however he wanted, but when they married, he was giving away her money, too. She was infuriated by supporting this son, a grown man who she despised as a spoiled mooch. Then, the man she married sunk into dementia that changed his personality.   She had married a fastidious man. Now she was married to a slob who threw fruit pits and stems under the sofa.  She eventually cut off the son, but was now stuck cleaning up after this stranger she was married to. They didn’t even get to enjoy one trip together. She was greatly relieved when he finally died, but neither deserved this ending. They started out as two good people simply reaching for a better life.

My own parents had retired to a Florida retirement community that guaranteed continuing care, where our classmate Jean Williamson’s parents also lived. Jean, who stayed single, lived nearby, and we usually got together for at least one dinner while we were there.

Many of the residents who had lost their spouses now had ongoing relationships with others that I thought was ideal. They ate their meals together in the common dining room, traveled together on the arranged trips, shopped together, confided in each other, but at the end of the day, went back to their own apartments (most times). They had no legal commitment. When one moved into nursing care, the other would visit as often as they wanted, but they were not legally bound. They did not worry about the other’s finances, were not expected to entertain the other’s visiting families. Whatever they did for each other was voluntary.

This, I consider to be the gold standard of later-life relationships.


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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