Parental Journal 78 from Planet Elderly – Dementia and Grief

Monday, October 3, 2016 – very early morning

It’s been ten days since Dad died and the most painful part is to witness Mom struggling with her grief.

Vigil Time

Mom and I sat with Dad who had become bedridden. He had not been eating or drinking anything; thus, his decline was rapid and dramatic.  His face was thin and drawn, his chest bones protruded extensively, and his arms were nearly as thin as Mom’s.  One CNA stopped by and was shocked.  “He was just sitting at the dining table last week,” she said.

It was clear to the staff and to me that he could die at any moment.  Mom, however, would hold his hand and kiss it…cry…and often say things like, “Oh…I hope he gets better soon.”  Then I would gently coach her on what was happening and she would cry.

At times, she stared at his open mouth, joking that a fly might fly in…not understanding that he could no longer close it.  I just nodded my head and winked.  Then I remember one time when she was quietly and earnestly studying him.  She looked at me and announced, “I think that’s a good weight for him.”  I didn’t nod.  I didn’t speak.  I looked at her managed a tiny smile.

The Week Afterwards

Dad died on a Thursday and I thought having a memorial service that Sunday would be a bit too soon.  As it turned out, the funeral home was quite busy that weekend, anyway.  We arranged for the service to be the next Sunday, October 2 from 1-2.  I wanted a day and time convenient for the few people who might be able to join us.  We were a tiny family of three…now two…with a few second cousins and a couple of Mom’s friends and neighbors.

Turns out it was a more difficult week for Mom than I expected.  At first she seemed very accepting of what had happened.  She wanted to be busy, so we spent some time shredding ancient receipts and utility statements and finished these sessions with Affy Taffy caramel apples.  When I think back, I was rather surprised at how easily Mom made decisions about Dad’s memorial service…initially.  After arrangements were made, she was often confused…thinking there would be “a viewing” and worried about having a meal for people who came to the service.  She also worried about giving Dad’s underwear briefs to my son.  She was totally baffled when I suggested Adam probably would not be interested, that he probably liked a different style.  “What about Dad’s coats?” she asked.  “Sure,” I said.  “Adam might use some and if not, he will find others who can use them.”  She seemed pleased with that.

Memorial Service

We had about 20 people join us in honoring Dad.  I led the service and started with asking folks to introduce themselves and tell how they came to know my parents.  It was a nice beginning.

I followed with a talk of remembrances that ended in gratitude for a man who was a wonderful husband and father. Some memories made us laugh; some made us sigh. The only time I cried was when I spoke about Mom and me being with Dad when he received last rites.  It was a very meaningful tradition to witness.

I ended the service with the following reading by Rabbi Alvin I. Fine

 

Sympathy

Birth is a beginning
and death a destination
And life is a journey:
From childhood to maturity
and youth to age;
From innocence to awareness
and ignorance to knowing;
From foolishness to desecration
and then perhaps to wisdom.
From weakness to strength or
from strength to weakness
and often back again;
From health to sickness
and we pray to health again.
From offense to forgiveness
from loneliness to love
from joy to gratitude
from pain to compassion
from grief to understanding
from fear to faith.
From defeat to defeat to defeat
until looking backwards or ahead
We see that victory lies not
at some high point along the way
but in having made the journey
step by step
a sacred pilgrimage.
Birth is a beginning
and death a destination
And life is a journey;
A sacred journey to life everlasting.

About jjmummert

Just another voice in the wilderness from someone who's lived on this planet for over 60 years and faces permanent residency on Planet Elderly. Update: As of March 2, 2017, I turned 70. I'm now an official resident of Planet Elderly. Dad passed away September 22, 2016. I view the Parental Journal entries as part therapy, part family history, sort of a case study of what our family experiences with one parent in a memory care unit, another living independently with short-term memory loss, and me, the only child daughter who lives 400 miles away. It's quite an adventure. Recommended readings for others who have loved ones who live with some form of dementia: The 36-Hour Day, The Myth of Alzheimer's - What You Aren't Being Told About Today's Most Dreaded Diagnosis, Alzheimer's Early Stages.
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