I would like to thank Dr. Sivak for the invitation to become a guest blogger. I dearly appreciate it! In January of 2010 we moved my father, 71, in to a memory care home. Dad has dementia, either the vascular type or the Alzheimer's type or both. About three weeks later my mother joined him in the memory care home. This was unexpected but necessary. My mother, 70, has a long history of mental illness and prescription drug addiction. Some combination of the two has led her to have memory problems herself and specifically what I would call amnesia both anterograde and retrograde. These amnesia and memory problems have been coming on very slowly over the last several months and have become a lot worse in the last few weeks. This, obviously, has eliminated my mother as an adequate caregiver for my father. Hence, the move to memory care for both of them.
One of the things that has struck me has been the fact that I am having to grieve the loss of my parents despite the fact they are still alive. This will be the focus of this blog entry. I never like to view myself as a victim but in this situation I have had a great deal to cope with emotionally and logistically. I am my parent's only living child. My sister committed suicide almost ten years ago at the age of 40. Now that they are where they are, they have ceased to be parental figures for me, rather, we have now switched roles. The way I view it, my parents have died though not physically. I am grieving this loss, everyday. And, I think it helps to view it that way. I can still connect with them both emotionally when we visit, we can still talk about shared long-term memories but the relationship I had with them in the past has ended. The impact of this loss hit me square in the face last week. I had surgery on March 5th to have my gall bladder removed. Mom and dad were of course not there and we decided to not tell them about the surgery. There was no reason to, it would just confuse them and/or bring them short-term anxiety. It was the first time in my life that I experienced something scary/difficult and my parents were not there. My faith in God really helped me however and right up until surgery and after I felt very calm and at peace about the whole thing. My two uncles (mother's brothers) both showed up at the hospital and my wife and daughter were there to greet me after surgery. God is good. Throughout this process I have leaned every resource I can find: friends, family, God, and other professionals. It is the combination of it all that has allowed me to not only survive but in some respects thrive. I choose to fight! On my last visit with my folks, on March 4th, 2010, all of the complexities of their situation were in play and my need to grieve and let things go was fully tested. My father was quite agitated and angry with me during the visit. On some level he knows that I am the one responsible for him being there. At one point he told me that he never wanted me to visit again. I am to the point where I am not taking that kind of stuff personally but I would still rather not have to hear it. By the end of my visit however, my father was hugging me and telling his nurse, "this is my baby." I have decided when at all possible, I am going to take my 3 year old daughter with me on visits, her cuteness and beauty tend to distract both my parents and deflect some of the pressure off of me! Plus, she needs to see her grandma and grandpa often anyway. During this same visit on March 4th, I was reminded again how severe my mother's amnesia has become. Eleven months ago my maternal grandmother passed away at the age of 94. We were extremely close and she lived next door to my parents. My mother was the person that called me to tell me my grandmother had died, we had a funeral, settled her estate, cleaned out her house and we all still miss her dearly. However, my mother now has no recollection of my grandmother's death (her mother). She now speaks of my grandmother in the present tense and still thinks she is alive. It is really tough for me to wrap my mind around that. The only thing we can do is play along, we tell mom that grandmother is doing fine. No need to tell her otherwise.
Both before and during this process I secured the services of a geriatric consultant. Nancy Kriseman, LCSW has been a wonderful resource to both my parents and my folks. I don't know what we would have done without her. Recently, after things had calmed down, she wrote me a note. In the note she said "remember to take care of yourself as well as you have taken care of your parents." I think about that almost everyday. In closing, another way I have dealt with my grief is through writing, the article about my father that Dr. Sivak mentioned was part of that. Writing seems to help me organize, express and process my feelings. Thanks to Dr. Sivak for giving me another opportunity to both write and heal. And thanks be to God.
John H. Pruett, Jr., MS, EdS, NCC, LPC
Founder & Owner
Georgia Professional Counseling Center, Inc.