Helping a loved one with Alzheimer’s navigate grief and loss

How we supported my mother after my father passed away

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by Ray Burow |

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My mother passed away from Alzheimer’s disease 11 years after her diagnosis, and my father died six years before my mom. His passing was an excruciating loss for our family.

At that point, my mother was in the early to middle stages of Alzheimer’s but otherwise healthy. Aside from a night here and there, it was the first time she’d been apart from my father in more than 50 years. It was an adjustment for her and for our entire family.

Looking back, we’re grateful that the love of her life was spared the full extent of what Alzheimer’s stole from her. Knowing that my mom had been diagnosed with dementia was hard enough on my dad.

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My sister and I shared the responsibility of caring for our mother after our father passed away, but caregiving began in the weeks leading up to when he left us. We took turns being with our parents, especially at nighttime.

Although my mother attended every meeting with my father’s healthcare team, I don’t think she understood the depth of his illness until she was faced with saying goodbye. She also didn’t quite understand why one of us would spend the night. She didn’t want us interrupting our lives. One day, I asked her, “Mom, what if Dad fell in the night, and you were here alone?” She confidently told me that she’d just pick him up.

My sister, a registered nurse, helped us navigate through it all. This included explaining what was happening to my mother, even though she didn’t grasp the gravity of the situation.

After fighting a good fight, my father decided it was time to let go. His doctor agreed, and hospice was called. My mother was devastated when she finally understood that Dad wasn’t going to get better. It broke her heart.

A promise kept

My father wasn’t afraid to die. Because of his faith, Dad was confident that he would soon be “absent from the body, and … present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). But saying goodbye — to my mother and to all of us — was his most significant challenge.

Mom was my father’s greatest concern. For 50-plus years, she was his closest friend and love. He didn’t want to leave her with Alzheimer’s disease, even though we, his children, told him again and again that we’d take up the caregiving torch. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe our commitment, but rather that he didn’t want to release her. We promised him again, and on his deathbed, he was finally convinced that we’d have it no other way. We loved her, too.

My father died about a week after he decided to go home. My mother seemed lost in the days following his passing. She grew more accustomed to him being away, but several months later, I gained insight into her mourning process.

Each night, I wanted to be sure Mom was squared away comfortably in her room before I climbed into my bed. My sister did the same. Mom, on the other hand, wanted to stay up later. Almost by accident, I found out why. In passing, she told me that Dad was a night owl. Mom went to bed first, and when he came to bed, he made sure she was well covered, essentially tucking her in.

Love remains

Retelling the story brings tears to my eyes, just as it did when she told me. Mom wanted to stay up late until it was impossible to keep her eyes open. In the daytime, she was distracted by activity, but when the house quieted down at night after the kids had gone to bed, she missed my dad.

As Alzheimer’s disease progressed, my mother sometimes forgot that Dad had passed. She’d begin worrying about why he hadn’t come home from work or wanted us to go out and look for him. She didn’t mourn his passing again when she eventually remembered that he was with Jesus.

As time passed and the disease continued to progress, Mom forgot my father’s name, though she spoke of him to her children and grandchildren. What’s amazing is that she couldn’t recall his name, but she never forgot his character.

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease involves physical care but also emotional support. People with Alzheimer’s experience the same emotions as everyone else, but they may require extra understanding and assistance as they process these feelings.

Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


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