Feb 25, 2014

If I Only Knew Then, What I Know Now

What do I know now? It’s not about me.

Marilyn Raichle
+Alzheimer's Reading Room

If I Only Knew Then, What I Know Now | Alzheimer's Reading Room
As much as I write about how delightful it is to visit my mother—and it is delightful—it was different and far more complex with my father.

Both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s run in Dad’s family with Alzheimer's usually hitting around the age of 80.

As Mom is sunny, Dad’s family runs darker, with anger, aggression and isolation as the common experience.

But, if I knew then what I know now, my visits to my father would have been different.

Dad was, by turns, totally lucid and moving in and out of dementia. He was profoundly bored, frustrated with his physical limitations and, on occasion, terrified.

The constant was his relationship with Mom—married for 66 years and friends for 75.

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When he developed MRSA, he had to move (temporarily) to a nursing home. It was a dispiriting place — with an overworked and overburdened staff doing the best they could but a far cry from his life with Mom in Assisted Living.

The anguish in his face was heart-breaking.

Visiting, even though we always took Mom, was hard and departure even worse. The sense of abandonment was palpable. And I admit I mirrored his desire to get out of there as quickly as possible.

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What do I know now?

It’s not about me.

I wouldn’t have allowed the bleakness of the surroundings to frame my visits.

I would have stayed longer, realizing that just being there with him was reassuring. It provided a sense of normalcy and love and hope that he would soon return to Mom.

Thankfully, after two months, we got him moved to a better facility and the change in his face was immediate. In another month, we got him home to Mom.

Once, with Dad physically and mentally deteriorating and Mom increasingly agitated over his condition, I brought Mom to my garden to spend the afternoon. 

We were late returning and Dad violently lashed out—accusing us of abandoning him—shaking with anger. Mom immediately fell on her knees, promising never to leave him again. But my buttons were pushed and I reverted to the combative relationship I often had with my father and left.

I now know it was fear — sheer terror at the prospect of abandonment.

What do I know now? It’s not about me.

I would have joined Mom and reassured him. I would have hugged him, told him I loved him and been content to sit by his side to let him know I would always be there for him.

So what do I know now?

Visiting may not always be fun but it can be extremely satisfying —

if you let go of your expectations and old issues and embrace the parent who is with you. 

Sometimes being there is not only the only thing you can do but the best thing— for both of you.

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Original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room