Attending a wedding for the first time a little girl whispered to her grandmother, “Why is the bride dressed in white?”
“Because traditionally, white is the color of happiness,” her grandmother explained. “Today is the happiest day of her life!”
Her granddaughter thought about this for a moment.
“So why is the groom wearing black?”
In the book, Gabby, by Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly, Congresswoman Giffords’ husband, Mark, provides statements about optimism that have greatly encouraged me. Here are just a few:
- “I saw how optimism is a form of therapy and hope is a form of love.”
- “Doctors at TIRR, the rehab hospital, told us that our optimism and encouragement could make a great difference in Gabby’s recovery…”
- “To be of help to a brain-injury patient, we were told, families need to find a way to balance pragmatism and optimism.”
In a Time Magazine article published December 13, 2011, Congresswoman Giffords addresses the struggles she and her husband have endured as they continue to adjust to the “new normal” brought about as a result of a bullet that pierced her brain on January 8, 2011 when she was reaching out to her Congressional district in Arizona. So many of us have new normals as we walk, or fall, head first into Baby Boomerism. This normal may involve a loved one who has a fatal or debilitating illness. This new normal may be characterized as our own bodily/physical struggles inherent with our age. Each of us have some sort of chronic something-or-other that inhibits our ability to function at 100%.
What is the chronic something-or-other that inhibits your ability to function at 100%?
The above question is a rhetorical one. Neither myself nor the public need to know the specifics – but you know the specifics and you’re the one making long-term adjustments as a result.
What processes do you follow to unearth the optimism that exists somewhere in your psyche? How do you overcome your personal challenges so that you end most days victorious, rather than defeated?
For me, it’s acceptance. For me, acceptance doesn’t mean giving in or giving up; rather, acceptance means being o.k. with how things currently are and finding ways to succeed within that new normal. This mentality or attitude is more optimistic than you may think. Again, for me, I decided to allow optimism to nurture the hope that oftentimes is buried deep within me. Things could very well change for the better – which doesn’t have to be defined as being 100% problem-free. Nope. If I garner optimism at the start of each day, I’m making a conscious and aware decision to acknowledge and celebrate even the smallest of victories that might occur in the next 24-hours. If I wait for a humongous, star-spangled mega-victory, I may wait forever. Instead, I attempt to be aware of even the smallest improvements/goodnesses in my day so that my life is filled with many victories to celebrate. The previous sentence says that “I attempt” to garner optimism throughout my day. I don’t always succeed – but I try.
What small victory can you celebrate today?
What works for you? The rest of us would love to celebrate that victory with you.
A granddaughter watched, fascinated, as her grandmother smoothed cold cream on her face.
“Why do you do that?” she asked.
“To make myself beautiful,” said the grandmother, who then began removing the cream with a tissue.
“What’s the matter?” asked the granddaughter? “Giving up?”
The judge was trying to change the mind of a woman filing for divorce. “You’re 92,” he said. “Your husband is 94. You’ve been married for 73 years. Why give up now?”
“Our marriage has been on the rocks for quite a while,” the woman explained, “but we decided to wait until the children died.”
Your Dad lives in a long-term care (LTC) facility and you’ve found that these visits really take a lot out of you and your Dad. You’re bored, your Dad is bored, and you’re beginning to wonder if these visits are even worth it. Do you want some encouraging ideas to make your visits beneficial to everyone involved? Here are some suggestions that might take the hurt out of the equation.
ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THE LTC FACILITY IS NOW YOUR DAD’S HOME.
The longer your Dad lives in this LTC facility, the more it will feel like his home. That’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re accustomed to visiting him on his home turf. His new normal is his 200 square foot (if he’s lucky) LTC apartment. Remember how painful it was for your Dad to move away from the family home to his apartment in the facility? One can not minimize the difficulty of downsizing a lifetime of emotional attachment to a household of personal objects to a mere few that will fit in his small living space. Respect for the remaining space allotted to him will go a long way towards making him more comfortable when you invade that space.
HOW I ADJUSTED TO MY DAD’S LTC LIVING SITUATION.
I would never attempt to offer any advice if I too hadn’t been through what you’re going through. At the age of 84 my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Dad lived in a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) in Oregon state. At the time of his diagnosis he was living in a decently sized one-bedroom apartment “on campus” and for a few years was able to function quite well in that space. When I visited from Seattle, it was pretty challenging coming up with ways in which to engage him and make my visit a valuable time for him. He was still active, however, so we went on picnics, took walks, shopped for needed personal items, and our days were filled with purposeful activities. As his disease progressed, however, he moved to the dementia unit of the CCRC and shared a room with another gentleman who also had dementia. Now what? I certainly can’t visit him in his room, and the common areas were populated with other residents who presented challenges to creating a valuable visiting experience for both my father and me. Visits outside the CCRC campus became more and more difficult as my dad’s ability to function outside of his routine rapidly decreased. How could just sitting with him in the dementia unit’s living room make any difference in his day?
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU – IT’S ABOUT YOUR LOVED ONE.
Well, it is about you, to be sure, but if your loved one’s experience is a good one, chances are your experience will be equally as satisfying. Depending upon your loved one’s executive function, your activity options may not be limited at first. You’re still able to take your loved one to movies and museums. You’re able to go out to dinner and attend family gatherings. You pick your Dad up, he’s happy to go with you, and your time with him is about as normal as it gets. If Dad is physically or cognitively impaired, however, your activity options decrease considerably.
BEING PRESENT WHEN YOU’RE PRESENT.
I think you’ll be amazed at how far a smile and a pleasant attitude will go when visiting your parent or other loved one. You’re of the opinion that you have to be doing, doing, doing to have a successful LTC visit. If being active is a thing of the past, I encourage you to simply be present when you’re visiting Mom, Dad or your spouse. Does he still like to read or watch TV? There’s no reason why he can’t continue to do that while you sit nearby and use your laptop or read a good book. When was the last time you had nothing but time in which to do so? Consider this down-time as some sort of blessing in disguise. Does Dad like certain types of movies – or one in particular – that you can put in the DVD player for his entertainment? Watch that movie with him even though it’s the 100th time you’ve done so. It’s difficult for us to define the movie-watching experience as quality time spent with Dad, but for him it may be just what he needs that day. I know very well how slowly time passes when visiting a loved one whose world has been significantly diminished. But imagine, if you can, being your Dad’s age and unable to come and go as you please. When you visit him, you bring the outside world to him and give the day a whole new meaning.
WHY VISIT DAD IF HE DOESN’T RECOGNIZE ME ANYMORE?
This is one of the most challenging times for a son, daughter (or spouse) to go through when our loved one’s cognitive levels continue to decline. (Please check out other articles on this subject under this Blog’s “Alzheimer’s/Dementia” tab for additional encouragement.) You’ll be doing yourself and your loved one a favor by not trying to force him to recognize you. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests that it is far easier for you to walk into his or her world than it is for him to be present in yours. When you walk into his room for a visit, simply announce yourself, “Hi Dad, Irene is here for a visit.” You don’t even need to qualify your name by saying, “your daughter, Irene.” Your title is not as important as who you are when you visit him. Smile. Speak in a lively tone – not loud, just lively – and let him feel your friendliness and your love. Caregivers can’t give your loved one the love that you have for him – only you can. As difficult as it is to seemingly have lost your identity with him – and it truly is difficult – the fact remains that you are his/her daughter/son/spouse and only you can love him like a family member can.
I sure don’t own the franchise on ideas to employ when visiting at a LTC facility. What has worked for you? What do you suggest? Your ideas may be just the thing that helps someone else weather this difficult time.
A divorced man in his 50’s finally felt that after 3 years, he was ready to put himself out there again. It didn’t go so well. “I went to a singles bar,” he told a friend, “walked over to this 30-something year old woman and asked, “Where have you been all my life?”
She said, “Teething.”
The 7-year-old child says, “I don’t want to visit Grammy anymore. She doesn’t remember me and she scares me!”
This is a major dilemma with adult children whose parent has dementia. It’s difficult for the adult to reconcile their parent’s disease progression – and they have a fairly comprehensive understanding of the disease that is robbing them of their parent. Now imagine a child’s inability to comprehend the disease. All they know is that Grandma seems upset when the child visits and on top of that, no longer recognizes him. When one considers that adult children sometimes dread visits with their mother or father with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, it seems easier to just let those visits slide for the younger members of the family. My daughter was an adult when her Grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I can only proffer a guess at what I might have tried in order to make her visits with him a comfortable experience.
Should parents force their children to visit the person whom the child has started to fear?
Forcing anyone to do anything isn’t always the best strategy to follow. In these circumstances, it could almost be considered cruel. My grandparents lived in a different country than my family. Us three kids saw our grandparents maybe six times before they died. Having the opportunity to live near an older relative would have been a novelty for me as I’ve always envied those who grew up with Grandma and Grandpa nearby. With that said, however, I acknowledge that close proximity alone in this situation is not a sufficient motivator.
How can grandchildren still maintain a relationship with their Grandma and Grandpa?
The distracted visit – visiting but doing his own thing as well. If the parents are able to provide some sort of distracting activity while visiting Grandma, the child might get more accustomed to their grandparent’s behavior. The child casually observes how mom and dad interact with Grandma – while still being able to watch their favorite video or play with their hand-held electronic game – and gradually feels more secure being there. Over time, but certainly not immediately, he may realize that Grandma is no longer someone to be feared and may attempt his own interaction with her.
Parents visit without the child and provide engaging updates to their child when they get home. Parents can keep their child connected by telling him the funny/cute thing Grandma said that day when they visited and also making the child aware of the positive things that are happening in Grandma’s life to balance out the overwhelming negative that pervades it. Who knows, this reporting tactic might actually lead to the child’s “distracted visit” next week. Curiosity may be just the ticket that gives the child the desire to see Grandma.
There’s SO much more that needs to be said on this topic.
I haven’t even addressed the issue of early-onset dementia that thrusts young children and teens into an extremely challenging relationship with a parent whose disease robs their children of the guidance that their parent might normally provide during their adolescence. What can you, the Baby Boomers and More Blog audience, contribute to that very unfortunate, and ever-increasing reality, in today’s world?
I’m very much looking forward to what you can add – successes and failures – that will benefit those of us searching for advice and guidance.