Being A Family 'In Sickness And In Health'

Reporter Robert Melton suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2003. He had to relearn simple tasks, such as brushing his teeth. Host Michel Martin speaks with his wife, Page, about how she adapted to her husband's injury and built a bigger support network around him. The couple's story is featured in this week's Washington Post Magazine.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now, we open up the pages of the Washington Post Magazine, something we do often, for stories about the way we live now. And today, we have a story about just what it means to be a family now or what it can mean, especially after life deals you a hard hand.

In 2003, Robert Melton was a rising star at the Washington Post. He covered politics and policy in Virginia, based in Richmond, where he lived with his wife Page and their two young daughters. But then, Robert had a heart attack and six days later he collapsed and stopped breathing. He suffered a stroke.

Now, he has to live in an assisted living facility for the rest of his life and Page has somehow found a way to care of him and move on. Their story is the focus of a piece in this week's Washington Post magazine titled, "In Sickness and in Health" and Page Melton Ivie joins us now.

Welcome to the program. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

PAGE MELTON IVIE: Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: And I do think it's appropriate to mention at this point that Robert and I were colleagues years ago when we both covered the State House in Maryland before he moved down to Virginia and I remember hearing about what had happened, of course, through the professional circles. And this is the stuff that, really, nightmares are made of.

Particularly, here you are, with two little girls to raise, your whole life in front of you. And I do want to ask, what went through your mind when you realized how seriously injured he was?

IVIE: Well, I think it was within a year of the injury that it became clear that Robert had plateaued in his improvement. At that point, survival, I think, is primary. Had to continue caring for Robert, but also had to take care of the girls and so, for a number of years and a lot of it's still a blur to me. It was just working and making sure the girls were in a good spot and that Robert would have the space to continue to get better.

MARTIN: But what about for you? I mean, you were still a young woman. The idea that you would never have the kind of loving companionship that you had planned to have. Were you really...

IVIE: I thought about that. I didn't. And that might be hard for people to believe, but when I married Robert, I was 35 years old and that was for life for me and, when he had the injury, my thought was, this is it. This is what life is going to be for me and for us and I'm just going to do the best I can with it. I was not looking for a relationship, wasn't interested in having a relationship and really just felt like we were going to ride it out.

MARTIN: And then a remarkable thing happened.

IVIE: It did. Reconnected with an old friend of mine. I've known Allan Ivie since I was five years old and we were good friends in high school and we went to college together. And I saw him in 2008 and we talked and many months later, when he was in Richmond visiting his mother, we got together and picked up our friendship again and the friendship was very important to me because it was somebody I could speak with and talk to and share the day-to-day challenges as you would in any budding relationship.

MARTIN: I'm talking with Page Melton Ivie. Her family is profiled in this week's Washington Post Magazine in the story titled "In Sickness and In Health." The remarkable thing here, and I am giving it away. You and Allan decided to marry, but as a part of your commitment to each other - and I know Allan - your new husband's commitment to you - you agreed as a family that Robert would move with you, that of course, this necessitated a divorce from Robert, but that he would move with you to your new home in the St. Louis area and that Allan, as part of his wedding vows to you, promised to help you provide compassionate care for him.

IVIE: That made this possible. There are very few people that I've met in my life that are that selfless and when Allan talked to me as we were discussing our relationship and he said, I love the girls with all my heart and I want to help you with the responsibility of ensuring Robert's care, there wasn't much more for me to say at that point. It was an amazing statement and he's really a wonderful man.

MARTIN: Well, you know, what's interesting about the piece is it's not just the theoretical construct. You know, it's not just the matter of moving Robert with you to a facility nearby and he also has lunch with him. In fact, he has his own relationship with him, in a way - if you don't mind my saying this and I don't mean to cause offense - that, in a way a step-parent might have with a grown adult child - if it's OK if I said that. that they have their own relationship.

IVIE: They do. They have their own relationship. It means a lot to Robert. I think it means a lot to Allan that the children have their relationships with Robert. The plus that comes out of all this is that Robert ends up with more folks who care about him. He's got a deeper support network than he had before. It's been good for Robert, I think.

MARTIN: Well, he also can provide something that you can't, which is man company.

IVIE: Exactly.

MARTIN: But, you know, one of the thoughts that occurred to me - in a way, it's a very powerful story of what love can do. You know, it expands the circle of love, as you pointed out, but you're also opening yourself up to a lot of judgment here. You know, you probably know that there are people - even the title of the piece, which "In Sickness and In Health," - there are some people who will read this and say, you broke your promise. I mean, at the end of the day, the promise was in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, whatever life brings you.

I'm curious about, you know, why you agreed to do this.

IVIE: Well, I appreciate the varying responses that there have been to the article, and our situation doesn't work for everybody. But this issue of caregiving is one that's only going to continue to intensify. I mean, military families, folks are living longer. Families are starting to look different, you know, parents moving back into the home.

I made my decision in the context of my faith and I wrestled with it a great deal because those vows meant everything to me and, as I said when I married, I said this was it with Robert. I think, in the end, my girls have benefited so much. They have a wonderful man now who's in their life daily and they have their father's love, as well.

Robert has, as I said, more folks in his corner now pulling for him should something happen to me. I feel really confident that the girls and Robert would have a wonderful caregiver in Allan, so again, it's not going to work for everybody. I appreciate the feelings, strong all the way around on it. But if I've learned anything from this, it's you can't look at somebody else's life and harshly judge it because you don't really know what they've experienced.

MARTIN: Page Melton Ivie is profiled in this week's Washington Post Magazine cover story. It's a story reported by Susan Baer. It's titled "In Sickness and In Health," and Page Melton Ivie joined us from member station KWMU in St. Louis.

Page, thank you so much for joining us and good luck to you and to everybody in your family.

IVIE: Thank you, Michel.

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