Moving On After an Alzheimer's Death

By Allan Vann, Huffington Post, May 16, 2016

When Clare was placed in the dementia unit of an assisted living facility in 2013, I had to transition to living as a married single. Since my beloved Clare passed away last month, I am now transitioning to life as a widower. Recent widows and widowers should take sufficient time to grieve and mourn before making major changes in their lives to guard against making impulsive decisions while under emotional stress. At some point, however, widows and widowers should consider four important questions as they move on with their lives.

Have I taken care of my legal needs?

Widows and widowers should consult an attorney, preferably one who specializes in eldercare issues, to see if they must revise their legal documents. Wills, durable power of attorney, living wills, and health care proxies may have been revised once a loved one was no longer able to take care of such matters. However, additional changes in one or more legal documents, or perhaps modifications in some home documents (deeds, insurance, etc.), may be necessary once loved ones have passed.

Have I taken care of my financial needs?

Widows and widowers may need to consult a trusted financial advisor to see if any changes are in order to meet current needs and to hopefully preserve and grow assets for their own future. Those with assets in IRAs, TSAs, 401K and other retirement plans may need to adjust or initiate Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs), legally required annual minimum withdrawals to avoid penalties from the IRS. Loss of a loved one’s social security income and/or pension income may also affect one’s new financial situation.

Should I stay or move from my current residence?

Widows and widowers must decide if they want to continue living where they are or if they want to move. Some of the many factors to consider before making this decision are the presence or absence of family or friends living nearby, various community, cultural, or recreational facilities or opportunities, religious ties, proximity to various places of interest, and, of course, financial considerations.

There are also strong emotional factors to consider. Some people will not want to leave their homes because they are filled with treasured memories of their loved ones. Some may decide to move because they need to distance themselves from these very same memories. The decision to stay or move may be solely a financial decision, or the desire to no longer live alone, or simply wanting a smaller home that is easier to maintain.

Those who decide to remain in their current homes should consider renovations that may provide a better quality of life as they age in place. Adding a stair lift, or moving the washer/dryer from the basement to the main floor, or some other home renovations may help make life easier to remain in one’s current home.

Am I taking actions to get on with my life?

Some widows or widowers may seek new companionship or even a new serious relationship. Some may find it too emotional to seek new companionship, let alone a new serious relationship after many years of marriage. There is no one right way or wrong way for anyone to move on ... just different ways. Well-meaning friends and family will offer opinions, but this is such a highly personal decision that there can be no one right answer for everyone.

No two widows or widowers will “move on” with their lives in the same way. Age, health, interests, and numerous other factors will cause one to be more or less willing to move on. I was not ready to move on as a “married single” while Clare was alive, but at some point I hope to engage in a more active social life going forward.

This is my 30th Huff Post blog column since last June, and people I respect immensely have offered me wise counsel about whether or not I should continue writing this blog. Some have suggested that as long as I let Alzheimer’s remain a central focus of my life and spend so much time writing about this disease, I will not be able to move on. Some have encouraged me to continue writing to remain an active advocate, and that writing may serve as a cathartic way for me to deal with Clare’s passing. I think that all of these views are valid.

There are still things I want to/need to say to try to bring about changes in Alzheimer’s medical practice and research funding, among other areas. And if I can help other caregivers through my writing, I want to do that as well. But I also recognize that I need to get past Alzheimer’s continuing to be the major focus of my life. So, instead of writing and posting a new column every two weeks, I plan to write and post just one column each month through the end of summer. After that, I’ll re-evaluate my decision.

Had I been able to discuss this decision with my closest friend when she could still discuss such matters with me, I think that Clare would have said that I should do whatever “feels right” to me. This decision to keep on writing about Alzheimer’s issues, at least for the next few months, feels right to me.