Blended Families At Sundown

 

After my grandmother’s second husband passed away, she grew close with a man in her retirement community. He was considerate, handy, and well-educated. He was also a man of means. He gave her extravagant gifts, including a new room on her home. We asked if she thought he would consider marriage. “Of course,” my grandmother answered. “He proposes to me all the time.” So why wouldn’t she accept? “I’ve buried two husbands. I don’t want to bury a third.” My grandmother’s suitor soon developed dementia, and forgot her long before he was buried.

My cousin Susie, who is Medicare-eligible, had a live-in boyfriend for many years. I write “had” because he recently moved out. He developed early-onset dementia, and Susie decided she was not equipped to care for him. His children have power of attorney and will take responsibility.

Susie’s decision may have been colored by seeing her father’s experience. My great-uncle Sam is in his 90s now, and lived with his girlfriend, Rosie, for over a decade. I believe questions of inheritance kept them from marrying, even though Rosie eventually took his last name. To the end, her children had power over medical decisions and such. Soon after Rosie’s death, Barbara moved in with Uncle Sam; Barbara was recently diagnosed with dementia.

This past weekend, I learned that my other grandmother — Uncle Sam’s sister, who lives in a memory care facility — has made a new gentleman friend. They sit together at meals, and appear to enjoy each other’s company very much. He calls her Dolores; she doesn’t seem to mind. Besides, she can’t remember slights for longer than 10 minutes.

Love and romance in the later years is nothing new. My wife wrote her Master’s thesis two decades ago on AIDS in the geriatric population (people who were no longer concerned about pregnancy were less well-informed about, and less careful to protect against, transmission of HIV). Today, she works in a dementia clinic. Many of the stories are tragic, but the most frustrating to me are the tales of family dysfunction. The spouses in denial; the kids who won’t work with each other, or with their parent’s partner; the long-term, unmarried consorts who decide they just can’t shoulder the responsibility of caregiving.

I don’t have statistics, but I suspect the cultural trends that have downgraded family and upgraded romance are leading people to seek a different source of companionship as they age. And new romantic arrangements among the elderly force adult children — whether formally step-siblings or not — to form blended families. They may not be living under the same roof, but they are often, without their consent, placed in situations that requires them to be joint caregivers of their romantically-entangled parents. They may need to help coordinate holidays (joint or separate), living arrangements, finances, and a whole host of other responsibilities. Blending well becomes essential — but since these are adults with their own long histories, jealousies, and resentments, not to mention their own interests — it is often more difficult. Medical care can be a particularly sticky area. It can be painful for a new partner to take a backseat as the children make life-and-death decisions for a lover.

In what must be one of the saddest cases ever, Bloomberg reports on the case of Henry and Donna Rayhons. They were married in their 70s, and both have children from previous marriages. Donna developed dementia, but Henry apparently was not accepting of reality. Concerned, Donna’s children — who had power of attorney — moved Donna to a nursing facility. Henry and Donna continued to express mutual love and affection, adoration even. But as Donna’s condition deteriorated, her children questioned whether she had the mental capacity to consent to sex.

Today, [Henry]’s awaiting trial on a felony charge that he raped Donna at a nursing home where she was living. The Iowa Attorney General’s office says Rayhons had intercourse with his wife when she lacked the mental capacity to consent because she had Alzheimer’s. She died on Aug. 8, four days short of her 79th birthday, of complications from the disease. One week later, Rayhons, 78, was arrested. He pleaded not guilty.

To convict Rayhons, prosecutors must first convince a jury that a sex act occurred in his wife’s room at the Concord Care Center in Garner, Iowa, on May 23. If prosecutors prove that, his guilt or innocence will turn on whether Donna wanted sex or not, and whether her dementia prevented her from making that judgment and communicating her wishes.

The State of Iowa vs. Henry Rayhons offers a rare look into a complex and thinly explored dilemma that will arise with increasing frequency as the 65-and-over population expands and the number of people with dementia grows. It suggests how ill-equipped nursing homes and law enforcement agencies are to deal with the nuances of dementia, especially when sex is involved. The combination of sex and dementia also puts enormous strains on family relationships, which turned out to be a critical element in the Rayhons case. His four children are supporting him. Two of Donna’s three daughters played a role in Rayhons’ investigation.

We often worry about what the rise of cohabitation and the decline of marriage means for kids and teens and young adults, but what might it mean for our parents? Culture affects us all. And as difficult as broken families can be for young children, older families can be harder to blend. Our elders, too, need care, and increasingly they grow old without sons or daughters to care for them. Our elders may be just as vulnerable as children — though in a different way — to our culture’s changing sexual mores.

Note: For the sake of privacy, I used pseudonyms.

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  1. user_216080 Thatcher
    user_216080
    @DougKimball

    Often the person with Dementia, especially in the earlier stages, becomes inappropriately armorous.  Imagine a 70 year old woman emerging from the bathroom without drawers dancing and singing “they don’t wear pants…” ?  Or how about a striptease during a wedding reception?  Dementia dosen’t always rob one of lust, but only of discretion.  Lust is a powerful impulse that sometimes survives when the mind is otherwise lost and confused.

    • #1
  2. Frozen Chosen Inactive
    Frozen Chosen
    @FrozenChosen

    This is why I don’t want to live past 80 – too many complications!

    • #2
  3. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    My mother at age 79 met a delightful gentleman of age 82 and they had a delightful romance that lasted for about 9 months maybe longer. I came home from work one day and found them on the sofa bed in the living room. So bought her a double bed and advised them to stay in her room with the door shut if they wanted to play. She seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself and she was already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For a time she accused me of not letting her have a boyfriend when she couldn’t remember him visiting her. As her memory declined her complaints became very emotional. I finally put a stop to it when she started complaining about this “strange man” that came into the house and kept trying to kiss her. She didn’t like it and couldn’t remember his name. He lived with his daughter, and I talked to her because we knew her father actually loved my mother, and would have difficulties with the separation. He insisted he just wanted to be with her, but she had reached the point of not remembering him at all. He was a lovely man and I wished she had met him 20 or 30 years earlier.

    • #3
  4. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Both heartbreaking and harrowing, SoS!

    • #4
  5. Frozen Chosen Inactive
    Frozen Chosen
    @FrozenChosen

    Kay of MT:My mother at age 79 met a delightful gentleman of age 82 and they had a delightful romance that lasted for about 9 months maybe longer. I came home from work one day and found them on the sofa bed in the living room. So bought her a double bed and advised them to stay in her room with the door shut if they wanted to play. She seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself and she was already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For a time she accused me of not letting her have a boyfriend when she couldn’t remember him visiting her. As her memory declined her complaints became very emotional. I finally put a stop to it when she started complaining about this “strange man” that came into the house and kept trying to kiss her. She didn’t like it and couldn’t remember his name. He lived with his daughter, and I talked to her because we knew her father actually loved my mother, and would have difficulties with the separation. He insisted he just wanted to be with her, but she had reached the point of not remembering him at all. He was a lovely man and I wished she had met him 20 or 30 years earlier.

    How sad.  The perils of senior love, I suppose.

    Another reason why I hope I go before my wife (actually I hope we both go within hours of each other like my sister’s in-laws did…at age 93!)

    • #5
  6. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    If prosecutors prove that, his guilt or innocence will turn on whether Donna wanted sex or not, and whether her dementia prevented her from making that judgment and communicating her wishes.

    That’s sick. They were husband and wife. It seems to me that simply being married ought to establish a strong rebuttable presumption that you’ve consented to sex with your spouse. How can a third party presume to know better than her own husband whether she was in the mood or not when she was incapacitated? Evidently, lots of people enjoy incapacitated sex. Why should married people have to fear that it’s off-limits?

    A few days later, Brunes and a Concord Care social worker discussed moving Donna into a room with a roommate she could interact with, according to the log the daughters kept. The home needed Donna’s room for a male resident and Brunes thought having a roommate might prevent “potential sexual acts,” according to a log she and Dunshee kept.

    Donna moved into Room 12 North on Friday, May 23. She wasn’t happy about it, according to the daughters’ log. She wept and accused Brunes of not liking her husband.

    Maybe it’s just me, but those daughters sound manipulative.

    • #6
  7. user_1938 Member
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    Wow. That’s a problem I had never even heard of.

    Doug Kimball: Often the person with Dementia, especially in the earlier stages, becomes inappropriately armorous.  [….]  Lust is a powerful impulse that sometimes survives when the mind is otherwise lost and confused.

    Yes, I can imagine that being common in the early stages, as you say. Dementia is like reverting to childhood. In advanced stages, the elder person’s wants are more like a toddler’s than a teenager’s, in my experience. I suppose there might be a “teen” stage before that. Does it include the teenage habit of rebellion?

    Even elderly people without severe dementia tend to speak their minds more bluntly than they would in their middle years.

    • #7
  8. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I read of a study–brain autopsies–a few years ago that the part of the brain responsible for inhibition weakens in seniors. It is a small area of the brain.

    I attributed John McCain’s mother’s remarks in the New Hampshire primary about Mormons to that problem.

    • #8
  9. user_645127 Inactive
    user_645127
    @JenniferJohnson

    The first thing I want to say is that I agree with Midge’s point. The second thing is that I have a few comments about the term, “blended family.”

    That phrase has always reminded me me of a blender, which is a machine that takes various soft tissues and liquifies, chops, cuts, etc., with the intent of creating a unique new, whole, thing. Not pleasant if you happen to be in the role of the blendee. I know that the intent is to convey something much more mild, even pleasant. It’s supposed to serve as a replacement for “step family,” which some feel is more harsh or stark. “Step family” probably is more harsh and/or stark, but it has the virtue of being more honest. Others feel the same way.

    Next is this: even if we accept the term “blended family,” I’m not sure it applies in the case of an elderly couple who marry and have adult children from prior marriages. Here’s why. These children never lived under the same roof and never had to interact as step siblings on a daily basis. In that sense, there was no actual attempt (or way, really) to “blend” the two families into a single family. The Brady Bunch is the quintessential “blended family,” but it is a fiction after all. Adult children whose elderly parents marry? Not a “blended family.”

    Having said that, this is not a criticism of SOS, nor of his choice of title. I’m glad he titled it the way he did–it gave me a chance to offer my perspective. I’m just trying to shed some light into how these things appear from the perspective of somebody who has lived through it.

    blended families

    • #9
  10. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Parent A: These children never lived under the same roof and never had to interact as step siblings on a daily basis.

    I think you may be underestimating the cooperation required among adult step siblings when caring for aging parents. They may not be living under the same roof, but they are often, without their consent, placed in a situation that requires them to be joint caregivers. They may need to help coordinate holidays (joint or separate), living arrangements, finances, medical care, and a whole host of other responsibilities. Blending well becomes essential — but since these are adults with their own long histories (and jealousies, resentments, etc.), not to mention their own interests, it is often more difficult.

    • #10
  11. user_645127 Inactive
    user_645127
    @JenniferJohnson

    Son of Spengler:

    Parent A: These children never lived under the same roof and never had to interact as step siblings on a daily basis.

    I think you may be underestimating the cooperation required among adult step siblings when caring for aging parents. They may not be living under the same roof, but they are often, without their consent, placed in a situation that requires them to be joint caregivers. They may need to help coordinate holidays (joint or separate), living arrangements, finances, medical care, and a whole host of other responsibilities. Blending well becomes essential — but since these are adults with their own long histories (and jealousies, resentments, etc.), not to mention their own interests, it is often more difficult.

    Oh great. So you’re telling me that if my mom remarries a man who has adult children, there might be issues where I’ll need to try to “blend” with my new “step” siblings.

    Well, thanks for the warning. lol

    • #11
  12. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Parent A: Oh great. So you’re telling me that if my mom remarries a man who has adult children, there might be issues where I’ll need to try to “blend” with my new “step” siblings. Well, thanks for the warning. lol

    Jennifer, thanks for highlighting this. It’s central to my point, but re-reading the OP, I see that I never articulated it. I’m going to do something I almost never do: Re-edit the OP to incorporate the comment.

    • #12
  13. user_352043 Moderator
    user_352043
    @AmySchley

    Parent A: Oh great. So you’re telling me that if my mom remarries a man who has adult children, there might be issues where I’ll need to try to “blend” with my new “step” siblings. Well, thanks for the warning. lol

    Yes, and one of those blending issues will be about who gets the money, if there is any.

    My parents were blessed in a way, in that when their parents decided to remarry, they married each other. (My paternal grandfather is married to my maternal grandmother, and they currently live with my parents.)  Yet there are still the whisperings in the family tree about “squandering the inheritance” and I know my grandparents have had to take financial precautions to help protect each other from their step-children in case of death. (e.g. Upon the death of one, the surviving spouse only had a life estate in their house so that upon the sale or death of the other, the value of the house could be spread equally among their eight children/step-children.)

    Elderly romances are stopped from becoming marriages all the time because the adult siblings don’t want to blend with another family, especially if money is at all involved.

    • #13
  14. user_645127 Inactive
    user_645127
    @JenniferJohnson

    Amy Schley:

    Parent A: Oh great. So you’re telling me that if my mom remarries a man who has adult children, there might be issues where I’ll need to try to “blend” with my new “step” siblings. Well, thanks for the warning. lol

    Yes, and one of those blending issues will be about who gets the money, if there is any.

    My parents were blessed in a way, in that when their parents decided to remarry, they married each other. (My paternal grandfather is married to my maternal grandmother, and they currently live with my parents.) Yet there are still the whisperings in the family tree about “squandering the inheritance” and I know my grandparents have had to take financial precautions to help protect each other from their step-children in case of death. (e.g. Upon the death of one, the surviving spouse only had a life estate in their house so that upon the sale or death of the other, the value of the house could be spread equally among their eight children/step-children.)

    Elderly romances are stopped from becoming marriages all the time because the adult siblings don’t want to blend with another family, especially if money is at all involved.

    After thinking about it more, I’m still having trouble with the concept of it being a “blended family.” My mother (a widow) is seeing somebody and there is talk of marriage. This man has one adult daughter. I’m imagining the future and interacting with this daughter in regards to the various issues raised. I’m having a hard time imagining that this is “family” in the same sense as when I lived with step siblings under one roof, in which emotional bonds were formed (then later broken due to divorces). I can certainly see the wisdom and value of working with this daughter as needed. But to think if it as a “family” or “blended family” situation? I dunno. I really don’t want to go there. Honestly it upsets me. I keep thinking, “I already paid my dues.” This doesn’t mean I’ll be a jerk or unhelpful if/when the situation arises. But it seems exceedingly unfair. I wonder how many other people are in my situation–having to deal with “blended families” at both ends of their lives, as children with one (or more!) sets of step siblings, then later as middle aged adults with yet another set.

    I keep thinking, “No, just no.” I am not willing to have another step sibling. A friend, a co-caretaker… sure. Another step sibling? No.

    • #14
  15. user_352043 Moderator
    user_352043
    @AmySchley

    Well, A, this is why many of us feel family is what you make of it. No matter your age, you don’t get to pick who your parents love and what additional people get drug into your life because of them.

    Every holiday, I spend time with step-cousins, step-siblings-in-law, the lesbian ex-wife of an uncle-in-law, and more. But when I need help, my “family” is mostly my friends from college.

    To my mind, once one gets over the notion that family is about blood and law, familial love is much easier to find.

    • #15
  16. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Spengler – Thanks for the Lena Dunham notice at the end. Knowing now that you used pseudonyms prevent me from fact checking your story on the interwebs.

    On a more serious note, I suspect Alzheimer’s is one of those diseases that has always existed but too few lived long enough to develop. To watch someone hollow out must be the greatest torture imaginable.

    • #16
  17. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    I think it was Chesterton who said something like, “In a fallen world, you have to stand on your head to see it aright.”

    That’s all I can think about this topic. We’re in an upside down world. There’s just so much profanation here, I can’t begin to figure out the right response. I just feel pity for everyone.

    • #17
  18. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    I think there are a few issues queued up on this so I’ll start here.

    When my in-laws were in deep trouble, he had early dementia and she had Alzheimers, we redid our basement and brought them in.    My wife wanted to honor her parents by protecting them, so feeding them, making sure that they had clean clothes and bedding, and taking them to the doctor or dentist took over a fair portion of her life.

    Her parents were both in their 70s.  Her mother wanted sex with her husband, and he truly was no longer up to it.  I noted this because Alzheimer’s does not seem to preclude sex, or at least my mother-in-law still displayed an interest in her husband.

    (If I thought anything was going to happen on that end, I’d have fled the scene.)

    When I read the item above about kids charging their mother’s husband with rape, I have to wonder.  It might not be so black and white as those kids think.

    • #18
  19. user_645127 Inactive
    user_645127
    @JenniferJohnson

    Son of Spengler: …older families can be harder to blend.

    I don’t mean to be obtuse here, but I’m wondering about this statement. Is this based on your own experiences, the experiences of others, the statements of family therapists, or…?

    Also, I’d like to return to the idea that the concept itself is flawed. It seems to connote a certain expectation that the blending process will proceed smoothly. After all, to borrow from the kitchen analogy again, if something can’t be blended we don’t even try to blend it. Similarly, we don’t refer to a smoothie as “blended smoothie.” Same with other things like that–we don’t say, “blended bean dip.” Either the process works, and therefore is not part of the description, or it doesn’t work, and we don’t even try to do it. In short: is the word “blended” widely used as an adjective with other words besides “family?” If so, I’m not aware of them.

    To restate: it is good that you have raised this issue. For me, it has given me food for thought as to my future with my mother, her (potential) new husband, and how I may need to view/handle my relationship with his family. I hope you don’t mind if create my own post discussing my reservations about the phrase, “blended family.”

    • #19
  20. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Re : comment#16

    a

    a

    z

    EJHill,

    If you see the person afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease often, he (she) does continue to know you on some level, and does sense your love. So he or she isn’t hollowing out, just having a harder time “hearing” and communicating.

    Yeah, it’s hard to see a person loosing cognitive ability. But I don’t have a lot of respect for the way we often abandon people while sniveling about how hard and painful it is to see them “failing”. You probably don’t either. Also, interacting with people afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, or some other mental impairment brought on by age related illness, does remind us that a lot of what we think we permanently have is actually on loan for an uncertain and limited amount of time. The reminder can be good for us (might help us prioritize, for example) even if it isn’t pleasent to experience.

    • #20
  21. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    This is an outstanding post.

    • #21
  22. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Parent A: Is this based on your own experiences, the experiences of others, the statements of family therapists, or…?

    Some is personal/family experience, some of it comes from discussions with my wife, who has worked in long-term care and dementia for a long time.

    Parent A: After all, to borrow from the kitchen analogy again, if something can’t be blended we don’t even try to blend it. Similarly, we don’t refer to a smoothie as “blended smoothie.”

    This analogy gave me food for thought (pun sort of intended). When the fruit is soft, it blends easily. When it’s frozen, it’s harder to blend. And as people age, they tend to harden into their views and routines.

    Parent A: is the word “blended” widely used as an adjective with other words besides “family?” If so, I’m not aware of them.

    In my actuarial work, we often talk about “blended” assumptions and tables. Men and women have different mortality, but we can create mortality tables that blend the two sets of assumptions. There’s “blended learning”, a mix of face-to-face and online. And of course “Blended Scotch”, which is a mix of single malts from different distilleries.

    Parent A: I hope you don’t mind if create my own post discussing my reservations about the phrase, “blended family.”

    Of course I don’t mind! (Not that it should matter ;-)

    • #22
  23. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Sorry.  This just makes me want to bawl.

    • #23
  24. user_645127 Inactive
    user_645127
    @JenniferJohnson

    Son of Spengler:

    Parent A: Is this based on your own experiences, the experiences of others, the statements of family therapists, or…?

    Some is personal/family experience, some of it comes from discussions with my wife, who has worked in long-term care and dementia for a long time.

    Parent A: After all, to borrow from the kitchen analogy again, if something can’t be blended we don’t even try to blend it. Similarly, we don’t refer to a smoothie as “blended smoothie.”

    This analogy gave me food for thought (pun sort of intended). When the fruit is soft, it blends easily. When it’s frozen, it’s harder to blend. And as people age, they tend to harden into their views and routines.

    Parent A: is the word “blended” widely used as an adjective with other words besides “family?” If so, I’m not aware of them.

    In my actuarial work, we often talk about “blended” assumptions and tables. Men and women have different mortality, but we can create mortality tables that blend the two sets of assumptions. There’s “blended learning”, a mix of face-to-face and online. And of course “Blended Scotch”, which is a mix of single malts from different distilleries.

    Parent A: I hope you don’t mind if create my own post discussing my reservations about the phrase, “blended family.”

    Of course I don’t mind! (Not that it should matter ;-)

    I don’t think my comment notifications are working properly. I just published my post, then came here again and saw your comment. Thanks for the food for thought.

    • #24
  25. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Here’s what’s bothering me : Weren’t Henry and Donna Rayhons sane and sober when they married ? Then, unless someone heard Mrs Rayhons saying “no”, didn’t she already say “yes” on their wedding day ? Doesn’t this charge against Mr. Rayhons undermine a couple’s right to give themselves to each other,in sickness and in health, for as long as they both live?

    • #25

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