This Father's Day, as on all days, I'll have fond memories of my dad. So will many of you.
No matter what has happened to our parents as they age, they remain our parents. Cognitive and physical decline do not take away their legacy as adults. We may have to provide some care that many would consider demeaning, but given in love, no care is demeaning. Part of that love is keeping in mind that this person is our parent, the person who raised us. Respect and preservation of dignity are their due.
Dementia Is a Life Changer, but Dad is Still Dad
My dad was sent into instant dementia because of a failed brain surgery. The irony, of course, was that the surgery was to prevent possible dementia from fluid building up behind scar tissue left by a World War II brain surgery.
So, he had the surgery. One day he was my dad, aging but still Dad. The next day? He was a man with paranoia, hallucinations, and no way to really know our reality from the reality in his brain. A voice from nowhere had fused with his brain during the surgery. We came to call the voice Herman. Sometimes, we could bring Dad away from frightening thoughts by convincing him that Herman was directing him. Mostly we couldn't. Herman was too real to Dad.
But no matter what, Dad was still my dad.
Below, I'm using plural for elders, and I interchange him and her, because even though it's the month we celebrate our dads, most of the ideas apply to mothers, as well.
Your Parents Are Still Your Parents, Even Though They're Ill
How do we keep our attitudes straight when we are the caregiver? We need to remember that our dad and mom not only were our parents but still are, no matter what diseases fall upon them or what duties we perform for them.
- Find pictures from your childhood where the parent in question is holding you, playing with you, or giving you a gift you wanted. Remember those childhood days and keep those memories keen and clear as you care for this aging elder.
- Try to find tidbits from the elders' work life to remind yourself that this aged person touched other people. Look for scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, photos, plaques or old letters to remind you that this person leaves behind a legacy.
- Be aware that needing to accompany a parent to the bathroom, or even change a diaper, is difficult emotionally for most adult children, especially when the parent is of the opposite gender. However, most of us learn to do this. We eventually get over the discomfort. Most importantly, don't let this duty, physically and emotionally taxing as it may be, reset your mind into thinking you are now the parent, caring for small child. Most assuredly you are not caring for a baby or child. Please see the first point for review.
- The same goes for cutting up food, spoon feeding and other attentions needed as dementia or other ailments rob our elder of abilities. Remember – this could one day be you.
- Put yourself into your elders' shoes. How would you like it if your children, down the road, felt that because you were incontinent or you need help eating you'd been relegated to the nursery school set. Probably your parent can't say much about how he or she feels. Please do everything you can to impart dignity and respect. It's distressing enough to have your abilities taken from you, without being treated and referred to as a baby or child. Treat these losses as matter of fact parts of life.
- Body language tells. If you say all of the right things, but you sigh, roll your eyes, tense up and act annoyed, your elder will feel that it's his or her fault. You are not wrong to be stressed to the max and upset over one more diaper change. What you need is help. Get outside help from in-home care, assisted living, adult day care or a progressive nursing home where the staff treats your elder with dignity. Then, you can get rest, work on your own health, and spend time with your elder in a restful manner, with the right attitude. We are human and can only do so much. Help is often a necessity.
Your attitude needs to be that this is your parent. This person will always be your parent, no matter what nature takes from him or her, and in your heart you know this. Stress, fatigue and frustration can bring out the worst in us. Forgetting that this person was once a competent adult is human. However, when that happens we need to explore options.
Remember the words dignity and respect this Father's Day. If you are one of the many people raised in a dysfunctional family, but struggling to care for an elder who didn't care properly for you, please consider counseling. You have every right to your feelings, but you and your elder can benefit from your understanding more about what brought this parent to the place in life where he or she failed you. You may then find that you can have some compassion for this person. That will help you think more of yourself, as well.
Thank you, Dad, for being my dad. You were, to me, the best father possible. If I ever failed to treat you with the respect you deserved, please forgive me. I tried my imperfect best to let you know that I've always respected you. Happy Father's Day, Dad. I'll forever be proud to be your daughter.