Difficult Conversations

Sometimes it is easy when I go see Dad.  He is glad to see me, asks how I am doing, and seems pleased when I tell him my life is going well.  We talk about the weather, about the headlines in the paper he usually has in his lap (he rarely opens it up to read, but seems to still enjoy looking at the front page), and about what my job is. He often knows my name, and usually knows I am his daughter.

Other times, the conversation is more difficult.  Sometimes he isn’t sure who I am or where he is.  He asks questions I am not sure how to answer.  He asks about people I don’t know or wants to talk about times in his life that I have no clue about.  He doesn’t remember being married or having children.  He thinks he is traveling and on his way home to Minnesota (his childhood home).  Sometimes, he wants to call people – his mother, his brother, his sisters – who have been gone for years.  And it is hard for me to know how to respond.

When he first started having episodes of dementia, and he would ask about them, my mother and I would remind him that those people had died.  Then I read more about Alzheimer’s and I realized that telling him over and over that his mother (or brother or sister) had died was putting him through the grieving process over and over and over.  And that seemed cruel. So I stopped.  It took Mom a while to be convinced that we didn’t have to be brutally honest with him, but she is now better about deflecting the question.

Now, when he wants to call them, I say things like, “well, she is in Minnesota, but I don’t think she can be reached right now” or “I don’t have his number on me – we’ll have to try another day” or “They aren’t home right now – we’ll try to reach them another time”.  Most of the time, this works.  I then try to redirect the conversation or distract him with another activity.  Other times, he won’t be deterred.  He has always had a stubborn streak, and when he gets an idea in his head, it can be difficult to get him to focus on something else.

I do my best to protect him from the pain of hearing the news over and over, but if he asks directly “she’s dead, isn’t she?”, I don’t feel I can lie to him.  I try to say (as gently as possible), yes, Pop, she’s gone.  I remind him that he was at the funeral or that he sent flowers.  That always seems important to him.

Even though some conversations can be difficult, I am glad that he is still able to carry on a conversation.  I know that the day will come when language will be lost completely, so even when he doesn’t make sense, I will continue to listen and try to respond as best I can.

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8 responses to “Difficult Conversations

  1. I cried through this whole blog. It was so reminicent of my times with Agnes.
    It was so difficult for both of us and so terribly sad to see this vibrant strong woman struggle to make sense of it. I never wrote down anything like this.
    I this is good therapy for a sad time in your life when someone you love so much struggles. Thank you for doing this. Joanie

  2. You are such a sweetheart. I can’t imagine how hard that is for you. Both of my parents are older now & I’m always there to help but I can’t imagine either one of them not knowing me or details of their own life. God Bless You…and if no one has told you today…You are a good daughter!

  3. This sounds so very familiar. Enjoy those days, as hard as they are. Some day, he will enter the next stage . . . of mumbles and jibberish, then silence. Those are so much more difficult. Hang in there and remember, you do not always have to be the strong one. You really do not. I’m so glad you can be there for your mom. . . it really helps. And the blogs are so important to family and friends who cannot be there, and I have found them very very therapeutic. Helps through days like yesterday and today, when I helped mom buy their “property” and “memorials” (gravesite and headstone) and today when we settle with the cremation folks and I fill out the vitals for his death certificate. Seriously, as sad as it is, do not wait until he’s gone to do these things. It would be far too difficult. Besides, he would want it all to be ready so we wouldn’t have to suffer.
    Blech, I love my Dad. But this is *such* a difficult journey.
    Mom found another great book that really helped her–I don’t have it yet, but you might try it, as well as _Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer’s: One Daughter’s Hopeful Story_ (awesome):
    _The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss in Later Life_, 4th Edition , by Nancy L. Mace

    • I haven’t heard of the first one you mentioned, but I do have a copy of the 36 hour day. Haven’t looked at it in a while… may pull it out this weekend. Thanks for the suggestion!

  4. You’re welcome. The first one is a wonderful perspective and was my favorite of the books I’ve read. Hang in there.
    My dad woke up with a fever of 104. . . that can’t be good. Heading over to see him now.

    • I bought Dancing with Rose – and I am thoroughly enjoying it. The facility she calls “Maplewood” sounds very much like where we have Dad, and I am glad to be reading about it from the staff perspective.

  5. What a struggle for you (and for your dad) but what a beautiful opportunity you have created – putting this out there, comforting yourself with its cathartic effect and helping others to see they’re not alone.

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