"Caring for Dad Is Destroying Us"

The strain of taking care of Claire's ailing father has taken its toll on their marriage. Can they get past the stress?
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Her Turn

"I Feel Neglected"

"A year ago my father, who's 66, was diagnosed with Pick's disease, a form of Alzheimer's," said Claire, 46, a former TV producer who has been married to Tom for 19 years. Their daughter, Kelsey, is 17. "Tom and I decided to care for Dad at home. But our family life has disintegrated. We're both angry and overwhelmed. All we ever talk about is Dad. We never see friends or go to the theater -- stuff we used to love -- because someone has to be with Dad every minute. And the situation has brought out the worst in both of us. We've been having terrible arguments. Tom tends to hold on to complaints until he explodes. Then he withdraws and doesn't speak for days."

"I appreciate everything Tom has done for Dad. But -- how can I say this? -- I feel neglected. Tom takes care of Dad but forgets my birthday. I can't remember the last time we had a heart-to-heart talk. Lately I've been snapping at him, saying hurtful things.

"Until last year, my father lived in Boston near his stepson, John, who we thought was taking care of him. (My stepmother died four years ago.) But one night John called in a panic to say that Dad had been arrested for stealing a belt from a department store. Apparently he's been acting strange for nearly a year, filching Hershey's bars and key chains from the local candy store. Since the owner had known Dad for years, John was able to smooth over those incidents. This time, though, he'd been arrested and jailed. John begged us to help.

"The next day Tom and I drove from our home outside New York City to Boston. I was horrified to discover that my father had been living in squalor, with a tribe of street people he'd invited to camp out in his once-beautiful home. I hadn't seen him recently -- not unusual in our family -- but we'd speak every two weeks. He'd call at 6 a.m. and seem perfectly fine. We've always been early-morning people, so I didn't connect the dots.

Continued on page 2:  Her Turn, continued


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