The One Promise You Can’t Always Keep

wedding ringsWhen couples fall in love and get married with vows including “in sickness and in health,” they often pledge many things to one another. Certain promises seem completely reasonable when you are young and healthy, but sometimes things change and a promise must be broken, especially when a loved one is ill.

In the early 80’s, when Chris was still young, he would pay attention to conversations between his parents. His father, John, was an Army officer at the Pentagon and his mother, Mary Jane, was also an Army officer and a nurse. Chris, his two sisters, and his parents resided in Northern Virginia. Whenever a family member was sick, Mary would give them TLC at home. This sparked the promise that Chris’ mother and father made to each other several times—no matter how sick they get, they will remain at home and take care of one another.

Life Changed When John Was Diagnosed with Parkinson’s

Chris lived a good life with his parents and two sisters. As a military family, they were always moving. They lived in Germany and Italy, and visited many places and made many friends along the way. For a long time, one could hardly tell that John had Parkinson’s. He still jogged, played golf, and went to work. He still played piano while Mary Jane sang from the kitchen. All the while, feeling the effects of the debilitating disease as it got worse over the years.

Twenty years after John was diagnosed, the disease took its toll and things got bad for John and sometimes it was hard for Chris to remember a time that he was not sick. John’s speech became unrecognizable and the dementia many Parkinson’s patients develop affected his mind. His body also began to deteriorate. Mary Jane took care of him day and night, and it was becoming more than she could handle. Yet, she didn’t want to break her promise to her husband. Read more about what happened in Chris Solomon’s article in GQ, “The Promise That Tested My Parents Until the End.”

Did You Make a Promise to a Loved One Involving Long-Term Care?

Similar to John, your loved one may get to the point where you can no longer care for him or her at home. He or she may not remember the promise that you made, but you certainly will. Oftentimes, people feel duty-bound in these situations to do what they said they would do. But at the time they made the promise, they were likely healthy and they had no idea what they were actually signing up for. “The feeling of being unable to keep the promise adds to the stress of placing someone in a facility,” says Gary Small, director of the Division of Geriatric Psychology at UCLA’s School of Medicine. “It’s always best to not make promises you can’t keep or qualify,” he said. For tips on dealing with feelings of guilt in this situation, please read my article on this subject from a couple years ago.

Plan for Loved Ones Who Need Nursing Home Care Now or in the Not-So-Distant Future

Residents are in nursing homes because they need higher levels of care than generally can be provided at home. The best thing you can do for a loved one and for your own wellbeing is to ensure that he or she is in a place where they can get the level of care they need. If you have a loved one who needs nursing home care or even if your loved one is already in a nursing home, if you haven’t done so already, the time to plan is now! Please contact us as soon as possible to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Elder Care Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Care Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Estate Care Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Care DC: 202-587-2797

Print This Page
About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.