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Say Yes

Yesterday, Mom asked if we could get together for dinner “in the next few days.”  I don’t hesitate anymore and just say, “Yes!”  First of all, of course I’d say yes, but secondly, I say yes because it makes her feel terrific in the moment.

The reason this is even a topic is because the difference in how I handle something as simple as a dinner request now, is much different than it was 1 year ago, 4 years ago, and even 7 years ago because circumstances were different each and every time a request like this came up.

It is generous to say that today Mom’s memory lasts for about ten minutes, specifically when it comes to “major events” like coming over for dinner, or taking her to the cabin.  Once we leave behind wherever we have been: my home, a restaurant, the cabin, or wherever we have spent our time together, it’s gone from her memory fairly quickly.  By the time I’ve delivered her to her apartment at Brookdale Senior Living and walked her to her apartment, conversations are repetitive, and her mind remembers little of the outing.

On the flip side, and something I still have a hard time understanding, Mom will recall something very specific that happened during our time(s) together a month or two earlier.  I can’t keep up with this disease.  Ever.

Four years ago, when I would visit her new apartment, Mom would sit me down, “I’ve made a decision,” she’d firmly say. “I’d like to come to your home every other weekend and spend the night with you and the dogs.”

What I heard was life coming to an abrupt halt with the sound of the long scratch of a needle sliding across an old album.  I sit there with the deer in the headlight look unable to utter a word.  I was still fully in the throes of taking care of  e v e r y t h i n g and frankly, was tired.  I could not see my way clear enough to have her over any time soon, much less every other week as was her request.  So, my answer would be gentle but honest.  I’d go off into this righteous diatribe of justified justifications as to why I couldn’t have her over. Her eyes would well up and before I knew it, the tears were flowing and she was sobbing.  Good job, Vic.

What Is True For Me:  It is a delicate dance how to handle your loved one, it depends on what stage they are in with this disease.  Had I had the knowledge and experience back then, I would have answered Mom’s request for coming over “every other weekend” with a resounding “Yes!”  Then I would have done what I needed to do to keep balance.  What I understand now is, I am in control of my time and energy.  It goes hand in hand with having help, whatever that means for you; reliable friends and family, a care facility where you can drop your loved one off for an afternoon several times a week, or whatever you find that works for you. I realize if someone had said to me, “You’re the one in control of your own energy and time,” at any time during the first three to four years of caring for Mom, I would have smacked them right to the ground.

The point is, at any time, at any stage in this disease, I could have relieved Mom’s loneliness and anxiety by just saying “Yes” to any one of her “requests.”  And I could have prioritized differently to maintain a modicum of balance.  Saying “Yes” even if I can’t pull it off is what we caregivers call, “compassionate misinformation,” something I refer to often in my blogs.

If the truth is upsetting and serves no real purpose, say something that will make them relax, feel heard and feel better in that moment.  There are times where the truth serves no purpose to someone with any form of dementia – at any stage of this disease.

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