When someone you love dies you miss all the elements that make them unique – their quick wit and depth of spirit or their wicked sense of humor. You miss seeing their smile, holding their hand, or looking into their eyes. You miss every element that encompasses the totality of their person, both physically and emotionally. And for a long time, even after they are buried, your subconscious continues to search for them. Everywhere you go, there is a part of you that hopes that they will turn up and it was all just an awful practical joke, a great mistake.
I cannot count how many times after I lost my father that I thought I saw him on a street or in a crowd. A fierce flash of longing would overtake me until an unfamiliar gentleman would turn and show his face, leaving me bewildered and swallowing hard to push down the lump in my throat.
This is very similar to what it is like to be with a dementia patient every day. You see them sitting in a chair looking much the same as they always have and your heart leaps, thankful just to be able to spend time with them. And yet again that glimmer of hope pushes up from your heart. Maybe, just maybe, things aren’t what they seem. But soon, before you know it, an odd remark or unnatural gesture pulls you backward and reminds you that they have indeed changed. This momentary hope only makes the reckoning all the harder and the path forward a steeper climb. It is like a wound that is never permitted to completely heal.
I wish I had a way to spare you the highs and lows of the acceptance process. I wish that I could catapult you past the pain and make you see the happiness that is possible even in the light of all that you are facing. But I know that this is impossible. So instead, I will work each day to offer you the lessons that I have learned along my journey and hopefully they will make a difference.
Dealing with my mother-in-law’s mental decline has been a balancing act of epic proportions. While grieving the loss of her personality, I have worked tirelessly to celebrate the continuation of her physical life. Over time I have learned to see those rare moments when her old personality peeks through, not as evidence of her restoral, but instead as the fuel I need to keep moving forward. Those moments motivate me to work even harder to keep the connection alive. They have become the joys that have helped me overcome my frustrations. By being honest about her prognosis and dissecting my feelings as a caregiver, I have been able to direct my energies in a positive direction. By accepting her situation, I have braced myself for what I know lies ahead. By deciding to drink in every minute of our long good-bye, I’ve created a new hope that our journey will continue for a long time to come.