A candid conversation with a professional woman married to a much older man.
Dr. Judi Strauss-Lipkin, 69, is the owner and principal of Strauss Financial in Chicago, Ill. and former professor of human resource management at Benedictine University. She spoke to Life Matters Media about her experiences caring for her aging husband. Larry, 87, a retired accountant and WWII veteran, is her husband of 26 years. Larry has suffered bouts with heart failure, Bell’s palsy, COPD and short-term memory loss.
There’s an 18-year age difference between you and Larry. Why didn’t his age bother you?
I was real clear about the 18-year age difference, but I’d been dating all over the place for a long time. I thought, ‘Okay, can I fall in love with this man? Two, can I live with this man? And three, is it okay if he doesn’t live that much longer?’ He was 61 when we got married. He’s 87 now. In my head I said 10 years, and we’ve been married 26. That’s a long time.
What was his first health scare?
We were going to Paris, and we were in this little hotel. At three o’clock in the morning he tells me, ‘I think I’m having a heart attack.’ It was kind of bad; we weren’t in one of those places where there’s a concierge and a desk. The emergency help did all the work in the ambulance and in the room. He was then sent to the American Hospital outside of Paris.
That slowed him down, and it took him a while to recover. He even stopped smoking his pipe. Later we would go on trips, and he would faint here and there. So wherever we would wind up, we would be in hospitals.
Do you have any suggestions for navigating health care?
You have to be incredibly organized and responsible, because the doctors aren’t going to care for your spouse like you do. You have to organize everything and know what’s going on. I have all Larry’s records on spreadsheets.
You also have to read the drugs to see what’s really going on. Sometimes doctors will just prescribe drugs- so pay attention to drug interactions. I recently took Larry off an allergy drug and he seems much more alert. He’s also been working out with a trainer, and now he’s much more mobile.
On the flip side, when I started to read online about possible side effects, I was getting too much information. Too much information can freak you out. Filter all the information with someone you truly trust, someone who really knows your spouse and medicine.
There are also a million self-help groups. Sometimes those groups make you feel worse, because they’re depressing. You need to be emotionally strong and clear to take care of your spouse.
Most important, however, is giving your spouse the opportunity to tell you how he or she is feeling. My husband pushed back when I took too much control. He tells me when he needs help. Aging and sick people want to have some control over their life. Don’t take it away from them.
Do you have any financial planning advice?
I’m the opposite of everybody on the Internet who advises children to talk to their parents about end of life financial planning. Parents are private and don’t want their kids to give them orders. They’ll say ‘screw you, you just want our money.’ The parents really need to initiate the conversation with their children.
Larry can no longer manage our finances and investments. One day he told me, ‘You’re really good at making money but not at managing it. I want you to find someone to manage it for us.’ It was scary because I know something is happening to him. This was a man who was a financial genius; he used to make mathematical formulas. But now a great firm in the city manages our money. If something happens to him, I’ll be okay.
I would recommend that people be careful of caregiving agencies and nursing homes. Sometimes they just want to make money. Wait and see if your spouse really needs them.
Have you come to terms with his mortality?
Larry accepts himself and his age. So, if something is going to happen, that makes it easier for me. He is not fighting where he is. Right now, he is really happy, and that’s a really nice thing for me. I will honestly tell you, when we talk about our marriage, one of the really wonderful things for me is that I’ve learned a lot about how to live from him. So, when it’s time for it to be over, he’ll know and he’s okay.
Strauss, Ph.D., E.A., is owner and principal of Strauss Financial and Tax Service, in Chicago, Ill. She holds a Ph.D. in Human Resource Management from Union Graduate School and earned her master’s degree in counseling from Harvard University.
Photo by mikebaird