My Friend’s Advice on Preparing for and Coping With Loss

The wise words helped this columnist navigate her mother's progressing dementia

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by Ray Burow |

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Years ago, a friend gave me invaluable advice.

This friend had lost her father when her children were young. Like me, she was very close to her parents and valued her relationship with them. I asked her at the time how she was coping with losing her dear father, and what advice she could give me. My parents were in good health but aging. Actually, they probably were younger than I am now, but still, I dreaded what we all must face. I hated the idea of saying goodbye.

I’ve never forgotten her words, and I’ve found myself applying her advice over and over throughout the years, especially before my parents’ passing.

“Leave nothing unsaid. Say everything you want and need to say to your parents while you still can.”

That was good advice for several reasons.

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Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us

Take a walk through a cemetery and note the beginning and end dates on the stones. As denoted by the memorials, many lives get cut short. And as the hyphen between the dates reflects, our lives are a vapor. Some leave this earth earlier than others.

As my parents aged, my friend’s words continued to ring true. I realized my tomorrow wasn’t promised, either. I vowed to take her advice.

“I love you” escaped my lips often, and I vowed not to mourn my parents or go to my own grave regretting a lack of intimate conversations. To the best of my ability, I kept that promise.

I’m grateful I did — not just because death is inevitable, but because dementia was on our horizon.

Alzheimer’s disease is a possibility

Dementia affects communication, as my family experienced following my mother’s diagnosis. My friend’s words continued to echo in my head during those years: “Leave nothing unsaid.”

It’s difficult to describe how my mother’s communication was affected. Because her progression into Alzheimer’s disease was rather slow, we were able to communicate fairly well. However, she wasn’t as talkative as she once was, and it was difficult to keep her engaged in conversation.

I’m convinced that it’s essential to communicate love to your loved one with dementia. Love translates. Love is transferrable. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may not comprehend the word “love,” they might even forget how to spell it, but they can still experience the emotion. We took it upon ourselves to make sure Mom knew she was loved, which was as much for us as it was for her. She responded that she loved us, too. You can exhibit love through positive words of affirmation.

One way to express love is to reminisce with your loved one. Talk about the good times you shared. The Christmas season is a great time to remember happy memories. When my mother was still with us, we’d tell her our shared stories. We’d talk about how she loved to bake, especially for my father, her husband of more than 50 years. She’d smile and sometimes add to the story, her mind somehow coaxed briefly into remembering an event, such as how she and my dad were a hospitable pair and loved to host family and friends in their home.

Your loved one may or may not remember the Christmas story. If you’re so inclined and celebrate Christmas, speak of the Christ child born in a manger beneath the bright star that guided shepherds and wise men.

Perhaps memories surrounding the eight days of Hanukkah prompt joy for your loved one. Reminisce, even if it feels one-sided, and take a walk down memory lane with your parent, spouse, or friend for whom you provide care.

As it turns out, leaving nothing unsaid is more for us than it is for them.

Happy Hanukkah. Happy Kwanzaa. Merry Christmas.

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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