The article above reflects what is offered by Pauline Boss in her book Ambiguous Loss. I highly recommend the above Alzheimer’s Reading Room article as well as Ms. Boss’s book for any spouse who is taking care of their wife/husband at home or if your spouse is already living in a dementia care unit.
The author, Pauline Boss, explains it this way: when a loved one dies, we mourn the loss; we take comfort in the rituals that mark the passing, and we turn to those around us for support. That doesn’t happen when a loved one is still alive, but the losing occurs nonetheless. And this period of loss may go on for years prior to the spouse’s final departure through death.
One of the statements that Ms. Boss introduces is that “it is o.k. to love a shell.” Anyone who is married to someone with dementia knows that, in essence, a shell is what their spouse becomes with advanced dementia. But if the “surviving spouse” is able to draw on the memories of their marriage, they find themselves able to love their spouse regardless of the disease. Unfortunately, the memories remembered are no longer shared memories; joint reminiscing no longer occurs. Your wedding anniversary passes without any acknowledgement by your spouse, and although that’s just one of the burdens during this long period of loss, it’s a difficult one to bear.
Caregiving is a difficult, 24/7 task. I honor you on your journey, and I hope you find comfort and direction in the above resources, as well as the resources that the Alzheimer’s Association provides.