Sometimes the vow breaks and it’s nobody’s fault, unless you want to blame the victim of Alzheimer’s for contracting the disease. No sane person would do that.

Vern and his wife Sandy married at 22, the day both of them graduated college. She worked to put him through grad school and he became a career university professor. The marriage ended nearly 60 years later when Sandy died, leaving Vern and two adult children, five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Theirs was a model “great American romance.”

Almost. Sandy spent the last two decades of her life battling Alzheimer’s. It was a losing battle, soon requiring full-time in-home care and then, when she almost burned the house down, a pain-filled decision to move her to a long-term care facility where, as she put it, “I might as well be in jail.” Vern faithfully visited Sandy and saw to her every comfort insofar as possible. For nearly eight years, Vern repeated a mantra every time we met: “She doesn’t even recognize me.”

With increasing frequency during their last few years, Vern visited Sandy, kissed her goodbye, and then spent the afternoon with his girlfriend Connie walking, talking, seeing a movie together, and longing for…well, you can imagine. When Sandy passed, Vern married Connie. By then he was 80something, while Connie was in her mid-70’s.

Vern recalls that from his early 60’s onward, it took a great deal of effort, over a long period of time, for him to decide to begin to seek ways to meet his intimacy and closeness needs. He says he did it clumsily, and that he should have sought counsel sooner than he did. He wishes he had talked with his children and their spouses about his feelings as well as his actions, early-on. (One of his children refused to attend his and Connie’s wedding.)

Did Vern do the right thing? What would you do, if you found yourself in a similar situation?

And what about Connie? Are you the “Connie” in the life of a husband whose wife no longer recognizes him? How is your family handling your relationship?

NEXT: WHEN THE VOW BREAKS, Part V: My Spouse Won’t Die