Today I sat with Dad. Alone. We talked and we cried. It was good. A necessary conversation and frankly, a relief. I rarely have the chance to be with Dad alone in a quiet place. We drive to and from doctor's appointments or to the barber but he's more interested in watching the sights...."the healthy people on two legs" rather than talking. Today was different. Mom was asleep in the family room. Dad and I walked back to the bedroom. I put in his hearing aids. There were things I wanted to say to him, support I wanted him to know was there, and I wanted to hear what, if anything, he would say in return.
Mom is becoming more childlike daily. She can be unruly and petulant; resisting medications, saying "no" and fighting the weekly bath routine with louder and louder protests. Things worsen in stages and there have been unwelcome signs of further deterioration in the last weeks. Dad, ever the caretaker is at his wit's end with the stress of the daily grind of her failing mental health. I see it in his face and I hear it in his voice when he calls (she can no longer dial the phone) in the evening to report things like, "All hell's broken loose around here with your mother...".
Today I sat close to him and explained that I was worried for him and that my concern was much more for his mental health than any worries I might have about Mom. I used the word dementia. I told him Mom's condition was worsening due to a disease that has no good treatment and that things will continue to worsen in all likelihood. Medication adjustments can help sometimes but overall, it is what it is. I also told him that Mom was safe, well cared for, and in a loving environment. Despite her screams when she has to do something she doesn't like, it does not mean he has to come to the rescue, that he has to fix the unfix-able, or even be in the presence of her personal angst. She remembers little of what seems to trouble her from one day to the next. But, I explained, we remember and that's what hurts.
He got it loud and clear. I saw his eyes well up with tears at just the moment mine did the same. We stat together and cried for the woman who was once so much more; for his wife of nearly seven decades and for my mother of fifty six years. We lose those with dementia bit by bit by miserable bit. The pain, mostly subterranean, comes out at moments like these.
He told me more than once, "Thank you for supporting me." and "Thank you for your words." Poor man. My heart goes out to him.
I stressed that he needed to take care of himself more, to get his rest, to let those in the know take care of Mom's needs, to let go of that tight rope that pulls at him day in and day out.
Dad, I thought to myself, I want your last days to be peaceful, accepting what is, acknowledging what is lost but living the best of what is possible.