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.