One of our senior counseling specialists worked for months with Louise, a woman in her seventies who had been ill on and off since her thirties. Louise had always depended on her husband to handle everything in their marriage and business. Now their roles had been reversed.
Her always-healthy, athletic, strong husband was disabled by Parkinson’s disease. Louise was depressed, anxious, and fearful, trying to take over everything and having no help from her adult children who were busy with their own lives and issues. Our counselor first worked with Louise to develop confidence in taking on a new role in her marriage, making appropriate decisions, and involving a caregiver to provide relief and give her husband proper care. Together they talked through ways for Louise to deal with anticipatory grief about her husband’s decline and eventual death. Our counselor helped Louise through ambivalence when nursing home placement was needed and then helped her cope with grief and guilt when her husband died shortly thereafter. Some months after her husband’s death, Louise joined our counselor's widow and widowers’ support group at the Highland Park Senior Center. Louise had been feeling very alone and isolated because she had withdrawn socially while caring for her husband. Louise made new friends in the group. Her friends cared about and respected her, and they often met socially for dinner and events. Louise told our counselor that “my life has been given back to me.” Her friends’ ties became so strong that when Louise passed away recently, every member of the support group attended her funeral and, in turn, spoke about the widow and widowers group and how they had seen it make such a difference in Louise and her outlook on life.