Tuesday, March 20, 2012

TRYING TO PUT YOURSELF INTO THEIR SHOES



It’s never been a secret that my Father and I don’t get along well. Whether because we’re too much alike, or too different, or a blending of the two, doesn't matter...fact is - we’ve always had a volatile relationship.

One of the few times Dad and I
are photographed together where
we both seem happy.  1997 and I
was living in Floriday while they
lived in Akron.
Now that he is living in my home it’s sometimes very difficult for me to empathize with his memory loss and the outbursts that come with that when he gets stubborn and refuses to do something I feel is in his best interest. We argue over feeding the dog at the table (more because he gives her all of his protein and he eats none, than because the dog just shouldn’t have it), changing his clothes (which he refuses to do) or trying to get him to not walk around on my beige carpet with his shoes on after being out in the snow or mud.

Small arguments tend to become ugly mostly because I get exasperated with repeating the same words over and over and over within a three minute time frame. By the tenth time I’ve said “Dad, stop feeding the dog your dinner”, it comes out snarky, and he reacts snarky, and then the fun begins.

So now I’m on the search for ways to learn patience and tolerance and try in some small way to feel what he must feel – just to help me stop losing my temper on a regular bases. My lofty goals are now to make it through each weekend without a major outburst.

LITTLE REMINDERS….EVERYWHERE
While clearing out their house last month I had opportunities to run across things that gave me some small perspective on their mindset over the past year or so while they were surviving alone with little or no outside help. It made me realize that they both knew they were becoming forgetful….I found their phone number scribbled everywhere…or my phone number scribbled everywhere…notes about trash day…reminders about what time meals were usually eaten…copious little bowls in the cupboard and pantry where Mom had started to bake something and either didn’t have an ingredient or just plain forgot about doing it.

These were reminders of things that we all take for granted doing or knowing. Lunch is usually around noontime for most of us but many days I would call down there at 10 o’clock in the morning and they’d already have eaten their lunch. Mom might say she was baking a cake but when asked what kind, she would have to get the box out of the trash to tell me it was “the brown kind”.

Still, even KNOWING that they are both having memory issues is one thing. To try and put myself in their shoes can be quite another. It must be disorienting, even frightening for them and I struggle everyday with keeping that in the front of my own mind when dealing with them. When we go around and around about taking showers, getting the laundry from their room, Mom forgetting to turn off the stove, Dad forgetting the dog is outside (or worse yet, forgetting to let her out in the first place), I can still sometimes wonder if they’re doing these things on purpose.

In the heat of a moment I cry out in my mind “why can’t they remember this?”

For the most part, I’m becoming a bit more tolerant of them. Even though neither of them will admit they have a memory problem, I see that they must be questioning themselves in private. Mom is now wondering at times out loud why she doesn’t recall that her brothers passed away some years ago. She asked last night if her father was still living and I had to tell her no, he’d passed away 20 years ago. And she still swears she cannot possibly be 78 years old. “Are you SURE?” she asks often. For her part, she gets frustrated when I get frustrated with her, and I need to remember that it must be frightening to realize there’s a problem with her memory and not knowing really what’s wrong.

Frankly it’s heartbreaking and I spend a lot of our time together with my face turned away hiding the tears streaming down my face.

For my Father on the other hand, it’s a little harder to empathize. As I said, we’re not buddies.

ABC's
However, during the clearing of their house, I ran across a piece of paper where he had been attempting to write the alphabet.

Now, once we’ve gotten past the first grade, most of us could recite the alphabet until the day we die. It’s drilled into our heads and even has its own song to help us remember. For Dad, it was an obvious struggle. He made several attempts and it appears he knew it wasn’t right because he scratched out one try and then tried again. For some reason, this simple task that he was attempting helps to put his personal situation into perspective FOR ME more than anything else thus far.

I’m guessing that for most people in my position it’s difficult to find that little “something” that helps make the situation clear – for me it was finding all these notes around their house and this little piece of cardboard with Dad’s struggle with the alphabet.

As their caregiver, I will try to look at this every day to remind myself that they are struggling too. This journey isn’t just an inconvenience to me and my lifestyle - it’s their entire lives disappearing bits at a time.

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