Just read the article featured regarding elderly marriages and it's ramifications. My grandfather remarried years ago, six months after my grandmother died, because quite simply he just could not be alone! Actually, his second wife was the widow of - get this! - one of his college frat brothers and he felt he 'knew' her because, at 78, he had been a 'brother' to her husband over 55 years ago! We laugh, but at the same time there is of course empathy along with all the other worries and emotions that you have for how they do feel. When he began, however, giving his new wife my grandmother's fur coat and personal items it began to cause a lot of hurt feelings in the family. He seemed totally oblivious! Fortunately, she was financially set, actually better than he was and her own daughter was accepting of my grandfather in her mom's life. She (new wife) was kind of a nut, but mostly we were all pretty happy all in all for them.
They were married 16 years and then she passed away. By then my grandfather was pretty feeble, had diabetes and could barely walk. His reasoning, which had always been somewhat questionable anyway, was worse, but let's face it, he was a 'live one' and he certainly seemed to have a way with the ladies! He met another woman, in her very late 80's, who was of substantial financial means, and she had four sons, all successful in life. After these two lovebirds had spent several months visiting each other in their rooms in the assisted living facility where they both lived, my grandfather announced to the family that "we are getting married because TONGUES ARE WAGGING (at the AL home, since they were spending so much time alone in each other's rooms!)". My dad had done a good job of managing my grandfather's finances and this time he had no intention of allowing things to get tangled up. Fortunately, neither did this woman's 'boys', who were all in their 50's and 60's. The sons and my parents got together at my parents' home and there was palpable relief when they walked into my parents' home, which is very upscale and nice. They knew that at least this old man was not related to people who could not take care of themselves and their parents. My dad basically pulled them aside right away and said "_________ can't afford to get married. He is in no position to 'start a family'". It provided a little comic relief and then everybody got down to the business of how to honor their parents' wishes without jeopardizing their financial states. In the end, they found a minister to perform a commitment ceremony during which they exchanged rings. They thought they were married and that was good enough. In the end, while I totally believe that we should honor our elders and not treat them condescendingly, there is a reversal of parent-child relationships to a certain extent. My grandfather and his new 'wife' really were uncomfortable with being seen as 'shacking up' to the other folks where they lived. They were old fashioned and not comfortable with living together without marriage. My grandfather had terrible prostate issues and I am sure there was no 'consummation' but that didn't matter to him! Rather than tell them they 'couldn't' marry they chose to help them believe they were. They were able to have what they wanted without the legal ramifications of actually marrying. It worked out fine.
To further illustrate how 'keeping it simple' seems to work once folks become very old, my MIL recently, at 92, has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. She has never smoked and believes that only people who have would ever get lung cancer. Therefore, in her mind, she doesn't. She however has 'masses' in her lungs. (Not the same thing if you would talk to her). Hospice has been involved recently and all she worries about is what this is going to cost her! We see no need to drive home the point that this is cancer, that she is 'terminal'. After all, she's 92! That IS terminal in and of itself. She has peace, she knows enough without dealing with semantics and that's the way I see my grandfather's 'marriage'. While they are in some ways, childlike, they are also our elders and parents and to the extent that they can have what they want without any negative connotations, I am all for that~