Moving forward together: reinventing family after a brain injury

After her husband suffered a life-changing brain injury, Page Melton Ivie's role changed from wife to caregiver. When she reconnected with an old friend and new romance blossomed, she found a way to love both men and create a new family that had space for everyone.
From left to right - Allan Ivie, Page Melton Ivie, and Robert Melton. Page ensured that Robert's importance and role in their family didn't change after she married Allan. (Photo courtesy of The Washington Post/Matt McClain)

In 2003, Page Melton Ivie's husband Robert Melton was a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist covering politics for the Washington Post. Late one night, he had a heart attack and was hospitalized. After a few days in hospital, Robert was released and went home. Soon after his return, he collapsed. He had suffered a stroke, one that put him in a coma for three days.

When Robert awoke, Page says it was clear from the beginning that he'd sustained serious damage to his brain. "[He] was having trouble talking and orienting, and he didn't really know where he was; I don't think he knew who he was, and he certainly didn't know who we were," Page tells guest host Kinnie Starr.

Page remained hopeful that Robert would recover fully, but after months of rehabilitation, it became evident that Robert's brain injury had permanently changed him.

Eventually, Page brought Robert home to live with her and their two daughters, who were 18 months and 3 years old at the time. But life at home was frustrating and took its toll on him. Page realized that in order to best help Robert, she'd need to arrange for him to move into an assisted living home.

For five years, Page and the girls spent the majority of their time with Robert at the assisted living home, something that was a constant emotional struggle for Page.

"I just thought I could love him back," she says. "It was an awful period at the time because I felt like I had failed him, that I was doing the wrong thing, [and] how would I ever explain this to the girls when they were older; that this is how it turned out. But again, looking back on it, Robert has thrived in a setting where he has some independence, but with the support that he needs."

Page Melton Ivie with her former husband, Robert Melton. After Robert suffered a tramatic brain injury Page had to adapt to being both wife and caregiver. (Photo courtesy The Washington Post/Matt McClain)

During this time, Page reconnected with a childhood friend named Allan Ivie. After a while, the friendship turned romantic, and Allan eventually asked Page to marry him. Page was living in two relationships, a state that made her uneasy.

"It was and continues to be challenging, because I love Robert and will always love Robert, and I love Allan as well. Robert after his injury wasn't -- I don't know how to say this -- I was very much Robert's caretaker at that point, and that defined our relationship. What struck me about Allan so much was just having someone that I could talk to and feel safe with. That was really the biggest part."

When Page and Allan did get married, Robert was consulted. Page says he gave his full blessing. Robert's family told Page that she deserved to be happy. Page and Robert's relationship didn't end there, though. Page is still Robert's legal guardian, and when she and Allan relocated from Virginia to St. Louis, Robert moved with them. Page has created a family unit that supports everyone.

Page spends most mornings with Robert. They speak about their daughters' many accomplishments or about what music Robert's listening to these days. Allan and Robert have a standing breakfast date once a week. Although this dynamic may seem strange, Page believes that her family's arrangement is becoming the norm.

"I think that any family that has a lot of family members probably struggles with the same things we do, which is just making sure that everybody gets what they need. I know it seems like an unorthodox arrangement, but I really feel like we're moving more this way as parents get older and live longer; that we have to take a fresh look at caregiving all the way around."

Click LISTEN above to hear more of how Page found creative ways to care for her entire family after Robert's injury.

Throughout the episode we featured some of Kinnie's music, check out the playlist below:

1) Song: Up in Smoke, Artist: Kinnie Starr, Album: Anything
2) Song: Bonfires, Artist: Kinnie Starr, Album: A Different Story
3) Song: Everything Changes, Artist: Kinnie Starr, Album: Kiss It