Monday, May 23, 2011

Grieving and Alzheimer’s disease

My father died at 78. Although he had suffered from mild and moderate strokes, he recovered from those setbacks and was loading a wheel and tire into his pickup truck to take it for repair when he died of a heart attack.

His death was unexpected and my grieving took its normal course. Everyone grieves a little differently, but most spend some time at each of the five stages of grieving: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.

The process of grieving comes with a twist for people with a parent suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. The person you love slowly fades away, taking with him or her the memories that define them.

My mother lives in a group home that specializes in caring for Alzheimer’s patients. Our conversations are coordinated by my brother, who lives in the same city as my mom. My most recent chat with Mom went like this:

“Hi, Mom.”

“How are you?”

“I’m doing fine. How about you?”

“Can’t complain. The weather’s nice here. How is it where you are?”

“It’s been kind of cold and rainy. Not unusual for a Cape Cod spring.”

“Are you married?”

“Yes, Mom. To Mary. We have six kids. A veritable Brady Bunch.”

“Wow! Six kids. I was one of six kids, you know.”

“I do remember that. Lots of cousins. You sound a bit stuffed up. Are your allergies getting to you?”

“Yes, it’s this spring weather. Pollen everywhere. How is it where you are?”

“Still cold and rainy, Mom.”

“Are you married?”

It’s at this point that you realize this isn’t really a conversation. It’s more of a rote back-and-forth sans any meaning because the depth in a conversation comes from the shared memories of the participants.

People who have lost a parent to Alzheimer’s do it twice. I’ve been through it once and experienced the five stages of grieving.

The second time will be to lose her when she dies. I’m not even sure how I will react. I’ve talked to other people who experienced the initial shock of a parent dying but don’t move through the normal stages of grieving because they had already done that and came to acceptance, the final stage.

There is a sense of guilt associated with the thought of a brief, or no, grieving period when an Alzheimer’s parent dies. Will I be thought of as calloused? Uncaring?

Mary lost her mother to Alzheimer’s and understands these feelings. She assures me that this is a normal way of dealing with what is a difficult way to lose a parent.

3 comments:

  1. Dear Mr. Hunt,
    Having people I love, with parents and/or loved ones, with alzheimers, the conversations may be repeated but thankfully the memories in your mind and memories in your heart, are repeated just as often. The greatest gift of being loved and having loved, is the knowing that love can never be taken away. The gift is with you forever!

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  2. Love conquers allMay 28, 2011 at 8:51 AM

    LF: beautiful and so true. As I approach my 60th birthday I am reminded each day of the greatest gifts in my life, which are the memories and lessons from by small town family oriented upbringing, the many wonderful people I had day to day contact with and in particular the life lessons of my humble hardworking grandparents and their friends. As I, like so many other's, struggle to live a good authentic life and contribute each day I find more and more peace and strength in accepting that those lessons of love and those who loved me, are the most important legacy to carry forward. Thank you LF for naming something so true. Thank you Randy for bringing the subject up. Have a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend everyone.

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  3. It's a terrible loss. She doesn't know you, may not remember longer than a few minutes, but you know her, and you still have your memories.

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