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How NOT To Bury Your Wife

Pete and my husband have been friends for 40 years.  Pete was married to Rose for most of those years, and he was a wonderful husband.  In fact, I had often held Pete up as an example to my own spouse, who insisted that Pete was “just like most men, no better and no worse.”  Turns out we were both way off the mark.

Rose, unfortunately, developed neurological disorders and for the last several years of her life she became increasingly less cognizant.  Pete took care of Rose himself for a long time, not out of necessity (Pete was a millionaire at least one time over), but because of his deep devotion to Rose.

Down the road a bit, Pete hired a part-time care-giver, just to give him a much needed breather to run errands, etc.  Rose hated her on sight.  The care-giver, Goldie, came highly recommended and was always prompt, reliable, and well groomed.  And as Rose’s dementia increased, so did her fondness for Goldie.  (Toward the end Rose often told Goldie how much she loved her, which by then would certainly have made me cringe, but Goldie is obviously made of sterner stuff than I.)

Pete was very grateful for Goldie, and very generous.  He paid her in cash “under the table”, loaned her thousands of dollars, and helped her out whenever she needed his advice or assistance.

Eventually it became quite obvious that Rose was going downhill rapidly, both physically and mentally.  Pete made the heart-wrenching decision to put her in a nursing home but, surprisingly, announced his intention to “keep Goldie on for awhile”.  We assumed he meant to clean up the house – maybe go thru Rose’s things, pack up keepsakes or sentimental items that Rose’s children (Pete’s stepchildren) might want, etc.  Imagine our surprise (SHOCK, more like) when Pete and Goldie began moving HER things into Pete and Rose’s house the day after poor Rose was “put away”.  Goldie, it seemed clear, was more valued by Pete than we had ever suspected!

I was appalled.  My husband confided to me that he was, as well, but he would never let on to Pete.  He just wanted his oldest and dearest friend to be happy.  Thereafter, I avoided talking to Pete, but thru my husband I learned that he and/or Goldie visited Rose almost every day.  WHAT?  “How does one summon up the gall to do that?” I asked.  Maybe I’m just prissy and judgmental, but I don’t for the life of me believe that I could sleep with a woman’s husband by night, and visit her sick bed by day.  Nor could I bring myself to visit my very ill spouse on the arm of my lover.  (There was, incidentally, some gossip among the nursing home staff, which enraged Pete.  Some people, I guess, are just too etiquette challenged to realize that really flagrant violations of dignity and decorum will inevitably be noted and discussed.)

Rose lived less than two months.  Sadly, neither Pete nor Goldie made it to the nursing home in time to hold her hand as she passed.  She died alone.

There was no published obituary and no funeral, per se.  Pete and Goldie hosted a brief, non-religious viewing at the funeral home (Rose was a devout Catholic).  Much to my husband’s embarrassment, I declined to attend the “service”, on the grounds that it is HIGHLY (and I cannot stress this enough) IMPROPER for the “other woman” to attend the funeral of her lover’s wife! The next day, Rose’s body was taken to the cemetery and interred without ceremony by employees of the funeral home.  As far as I know, Pete has never visited her grave.  Within two weeks, Pete announced to my husband that he had asked Goldie to marry him, and she had accepted.  They were married shortly thereafter at the local JP’s office.  Again, I declined to attend.

Rose died two years ago.  It grieves my husband deeply that I still refuse to socialize with Pete and Goldie, who, by the way, continue to live in Rose’s house and even sleep in what was once her bed.  We have run into one another on occasion and I am always civil to both Pete and Goldie, both of whom still extend the odd invitation now and again, “even though we know you can’t come because of the way your wife feels”.  For my part, I have made my husband SWEAR that he will at least wait until I’m dead before he starts dating.  0122-09

The nature of the numerous comments to this story illustrates why the EtiquetteHell.com web site exists.   Just because many people believe something to be appropriate does not make it so and stories such as this offer the opportunity to counter a prevailing cultural disintegration of decorum into selfishness.

Wedding vows still contain the promise to “love, honor and cherish” in “sickness and health”, for “better or worse” til death do us part.   Presumably that would extend to promising to honor one’s marriage commitments even through the final throes of dementia since I have yet to hear of any caveats exempting certain medical conditions from wedding vows.   One profound presumption leaps off the pages of comments, that the person suffering from dementia or Alzheimers is “gone”, as if people actually believe they know what transpires in the mind of afflicted, and this fuels the justification for Pete’s actions in installing Goldie into his home and heart.  I’m reminded of what Patti Davis wrote regarding the death of her father, President Ronald Reagan, after suffering from Alzheimers for over 13 years…

At the last moment, when his breathing told us this was it, he opened his eyes and looked straight at my mother.  Eyes that hadn’t opened for days did, and they weren’t chalky or vague.  They were clear and blue and full of love, and then they closed with his last breath.  If a death can be lovely, his was.  The greatest gift you could have given me, my mother managed to say to him through tears,  through “I love you”, through the towering beauty of that last moment.    People, June 21, 2004

No one is truly “gone” until death parts you from that person, even when the “worse”  and “in sickness” part of marriage manifests itself as a deteriorating neurological disease.  Pete’s final interactions with his wife could hardly be described as “toweringly beautiful”.

Pete’s actions are selfish in that he believes himself to be the only mourner of importance and therefore what he wants takes precedent over decorum, or the feelings of other significant mourners.  We are not told by the letter writer if Pete and Rosie had children, grandchildren, if Rosie had siblings, nieces, nephews, godchildren, or best friends but assuredly there were people who knew her who did love her and mourned her loss as the LW does.    Pete’s behavior of replacing Rosie with Goldie offers what Miss Manners refers to as a “vivid illustration of how easily the person has been forgotten” even before Rosie is deceased.  It’s an affront to those who loved her and who would have wished a more dignified death, funeral and appropriate display of grief and decorum suitable to honor her memory.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • kelly July 11, 2010, 8:35 am

    I understand that the husband may have felt lonely. But this was not a dog we were talking about it was his wife, the woman he loved, the woman who spent her life with him. If he had fallen in love with the nurse, then they both could have waited for a couple of years, rather than treat his wife like an old car they had to get rid of as soon as possible.

  • Michelle Prieur July 11, 2010, 8:59 pm

    I’m torn on this one. While I agree that Pete was a good husband and took good care of Rose, he definitely could have waited until Rose was dead before moving Goldie in. He took very good care of his ailing wife; as someone who’s cared for a loved one with dementia, I can tell you that it’s difficult and unrewarding. The poster of the story has no idea what went on before Rose’s demise, and it’s none of her business. It was a tragic situation that could have been handled better all around.

  • Jumble Girl October 18, 2010, 9:31 pm

    This situation reminds me of my Aunt and Uncle and what happened there. My Aunt was diagnosed with MS quite a few years ago (she was diagnosed fairly late in life, 40’s, in comparison to when it is usually diagnosed) and she stayed at home for as long as my Uncle could look after her with home help and nursing. He eventually put her in a nursing home (against her wishes, she couldn’t move very well or speak very clearly but by gee you knew she wasn’t happy about it) and then the family found out not that long after this event that he was fathering a child with the home nurse that used to come around. She wasn’t a live in nurse but he obviously found the time to take up with her even while my Aunt was still in the house! He has not gone to visit my Aunt once since he put her in the nursing home (she is still alive and has been there for about 5 years or so now) so obviously he considers her dead and can go on with his life. This from the man who declared when they first met that ” this is the girl I’m going to marry”.

    Funny how when the first one is ‘broken’ how easily these fellows can move on…

  • CuAllaidh November 11, 2010, 10:28 am

    I’m sorry but I have to disagree on this one. Was it tactless, possibly, but the fact is the OP doesn’t know the details and has refused to even talk to Pete. You never know what arrangements were made, perhaps Rose had told him to move on at some point of lucidity. That they continued to visit Rose implies (to my mind) that Rose knew of the relationship and at some point supported it. As for the funeral arrangements, the OP refused to attend and thus knows nothing of Rose’s wishes in this matter. Myself and my SO have both discussed that we want our funerals to be as downplayed and cheap as possible.

  • Ginger December 28, 2010, 10:19 pm

    How horrible! My only problem was that the OP did not go to Rose’s funeral. She could have gone, prayed some words, told the husband how sorry she was that his WIFE died, said nothing to the girlfriend (or maybe just gave her the evil eye lol! 😉 and went on her way. Even though wakes/funerals are for the family of the deceased, I still feel it’s a slight to the deceased if you do not go, especially if you knew them. It’s a last respect that you can give that person.

    This happened to my family as well. When my grandmother was in a nursing home, my step-grandfather (and YES, I say STEP because there is no blood between my family and this man), who was married to her for many years, had an affair with a woman from church (nice, huh?!).

    My step-grandfather had the gall to tell my grandmother he wanted a divorce from her. This was about two weeks before she died. The nerve. My grandmother did EVERYTHING for this man and he had the nerve to skip out on her on her deathbed. Sickening.

    My step grandfather left the country the day before my beloved grandmother died. He was not at her wake or funeral. The rest of us were. When we got into the house (they lived in another state), we found this his girlfriend took anything of value that was my grandmother’s. And since my grandfather was technically next of kin, there was nothing we could do about it in regards to calling the police, etc…

    This man is now living in a nursing home outside of the US. Who knows what mental or physical state he is in. And my family and I do not really care. The way he treated my grandmother in her final months was appalling.

  • ferretrick December 29, 2010, 10:55 am

    One thing I’m fairly certain of-this is a private family situtation and in life Rose would not have cared to have her illness and family situation disected, discussed, and judged ad nauseum by complete strangers. Judging unkindness, lack of consideration, or violations of etiquette is one thing. Putting up a complex family problem in order to entertain others and to fuel LW’s self righteousness is quite another. LW would do well to honor her friend by keeping family situations private and shutting the you know what up.

  • Javin October 4, 2011, 5:21 pm

    Even with the Admin’s addendum, this one leaves me torn. Without knowing the arrangement between Pete and Rose, there’s a lot here that we’re left in the dark about.

    I’m only in my 30’s, but my SO and I have already had conversations about this very subject, as I’ve seen similar situations with my own family and friends. Should I suffer from a debilitating disease that there is no cure or hope of recovery from, I have made it very clear that I wish for her to move on at the point that my facilities are no longer with me. I am my personality. I am my mind. I am not this physical meat husk that carries my brain around. If my mind has irrevocably left, or in the most heinous scenario, due to dementia I become aggressive or hateful to the very woman I love, then I am, for all intents and purposes, dead. I love my SO very much, and part of that love is the desire that she find happiness when I have gone, whether or not my body is still functional.

    A situation like Rose/Pete’s/Goldie’s would actually be ideal in my world. Should I have moments of lucidity, and I find myself in a nursing home, I will know precisely why I’m there, and finding that my SO is still coming to spend time with me, but also going to be well cared for when I ultimately pass will be the comfort I will need. I don’t want my last thoughts to be aching sorrow for leaving her completely alone in the world, as is what happened to both of my grandparents. I loathe to think that if my SO was in Pete’s position, long-time friends would shun her due to my wishes for her happiness. I don’t feel in this story that Pete “replaced” Rose at all. You don’t simply swap out someone you’ve spent your life with as if the new person suddenly has all of your experiences and years together. The OP seems to have missed the possibility that Rose truly DID love Goldie, and that it wasn’t the dementia talking. I like to think that Rose may have made the ultimate gesture of love, and given her blessing during a lucid moment.

    We don’t know the understanding that was had by Rose, Pete, and Goldie, but the judgement passed on their decisions could well be against the very wishes of Rose.

  • TheBardess October 4, 2011, 7:36 pm

    It’s true we don’t know what the “arrangement” between Pete, Goldie, and Rose may have been. However, if the LW is correct that Rose was a devout Catholic, I find it very hard to believe that she would have given her blessing to an adulterous arrangement that would be considered a mortal sin by the Church.

  • AthenaC October 5, 2011, 10:19 am

    I know this is old, but after thinking about this one a while, I think the worst part about this is that Rose’s spiritual care was neglected. No funeral mass, and no last rites (I assume), which Pete should have known his wife wanted. If I were acquainted with the couple, that would be the extent of what I would say to them, because that’s the piece that everyone involved (even those outside the couple’s bedroom) knew for a fact should have been done for Rose.

    I would put the rest of the whole situation into the category of “things that are not my business.” Not because I find the rest of it (i.e. the infidelity) anything less than morally reprehensible, but because there is really very little that anyone outside the bedroom knows for a fact, and further there is nothing to be gained from getting involved. Give you an example: a few years ago Brad Pitt was cheating on Jennifer Aniston with Angelina Jolie, and we all know how that story ends. Technically falls under “things that are not my business,” but it doesn’t stop me from talking smack about it because it still ain’t right.

  • Angela February 11, 2012, 1:14 am

    Very late to this but some might still be reading (I am!). I have nothing to say about the moral issue at hand since there but the grace of God etc but I wanted to reassure those who were concerned about Rose’s spiritual care. Most NHs, hospices etc with terminally ill patients have a Catholic priest who acts as chaplain to the residents. If they don’t have one at hand, they will surely know of one to call on. The staff are generally very respectful of residents’ religious affiliations. If nothing else, if she really was a devout Catholic, her parish priest would have kept in touch.
    I have no doubt that a Catholic priest would have been there to give Rose the last rites and to officiate at her burial.