Coping with grief when a parent or loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s/dementia

Dementia

It is heartbreaking with our loved one receive the devastating diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. As they start to show signs of confusion and forgetfulness, sometimes not recognizing us, the sadness starts to set in. Especially when we have been close to them and they have been our best friend and pillar of strength.

I totally understand how you feel. It is hard. My mom too, was the person I trusted and confided in the most. She always had my best interests at heart. I wish to share my experience below:
senior03 - Coping with grief when a parent or loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer's/dementia
As the illness start to set in, our roles gradually reversed. There would be a grieving period, and we need to allow our self to grieve and say goodbye to the mother and best friend we have known all our life. Initially I just felt very sad, lost and I use to cry alone, not able to imagine how my life would be when my mother forgets and eventually, is no longer in my life.
Till I realize, it is now the time she needed me the most and I need to be there for her. I had to snap out of it. She is still here and I realize that my mind was stuck in the past (fill with memories that made me sad) and future (afraid of how to face it).
The disease usually takes its time to progress and I was able to adjust slowly into the role of a nurturer and mother, while my mom is now a baby. My mom had a terrible childhood starting from the time she was a baby.  When she was few months old, her birth mother sold her to a servant family (because she could not afford to keep my mother). When the servant went to work as a stay in servant, my mom was physically abused and starved by the people in that household. They never cease to make her feel unwanted and an outcast. My mom grew up with these scars and it affected the way she viewed the world and her interaction in relationships.
My mom was an excellent mother, more than anyone can ask for. But the trauma she suffered in her childhood made her deeply unhappy for deep down she had always felt unworthy, unloved and unwanted. When she had interactions with people who triggered those feelings, she would react like a wounded animal.
As her Alzheimer’s progresses, the protective shields and maladaptive coping mechanism she had erected as a barrier to protect herself from perceived rejection, abandonment and hurt slowly fall away. Gradually, the painful memories are being wiped out and her mind becomes one of an innocent baby.
I saw the role that I could do for my wonderful beloved mother as her caregiver.
Now I am replacing the terrible memories she carry with her all her life…. with hugs, reassurance, care and keeping her company.
My mom stopped recognizing me a long time ago but it no longer mattered to me now. For she is the happiest and the most carefree now than I have ever seen her be in my entire life.
I guess in the process, we would learn to be stronger, to rely on ourselves and develop patience and resilience. After all, we have lost our pillar of strength and instead need to be that pillar for our loved one.
I find that the best self improvement course or workshop is never as effective as real life experience.
In the past, I have been always impulsive and is known for having a bad temper. Well, generally I am alright but once I am triggered, the person would suffer my wrath. But with my mom, I have learned early to never argue or lose your temper with a person with Alzheimer’s. They would just say the nastiest things that pierce the heart, and then forget it 10 minutes later. When you leave the room and come back 10 minutes later, they would look at you with the sweetest smile and ask you how are you or what’s for dinner. While you are angry, hurt and fuming.
You remember but they don’t. If you cannot let it go and let out our frustration, they would look so confused and even begin to cry. Or they would start to behave in a hostile and defensive way, asking us to get out of the house and never come back. Once my mother said nasty things to me and ask me to get out. I left but something made me turn back a short while later to take a look at her. What I saw was heartbreaking. She was sitting there all alone, looking lost, confused and afraid. I felt so bad for causing her to be like that and I was upset with myself for not having enough patience.
Eventually, I was able to curb my bad temper when I become a caregiver… Something I had not been able to do earlier with lifestyle changes, reading books and attending courses. I felt inner peace that I had never felt before in my life as I overcome other bad habits as well, which I had no choice if I wish to keep my sanity in my journey as a caregiver.
I hope you would be able to overcome this sadness. There is nothing that can be done and we can only alter our perspective and the way we deal with the situation. They are still here with us and that is what truly matters for now. Now is the time they really need us. I’ve learned to enjoy quiet moments with my mom as I spend most of the day with her. To care for her and see joy and contentment in her face as she slept, without any worries in the world as it is all having been taken care off (prior to having Alzheimer’s, she had suffered from years of insomnia and now, she no longer have that problem). Just like how she took care of all my worries when I was young.
Take care.
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