Facing Alzheimers

I appreciated David Brooks’ column about Charles Snelling’s  murder-suicide with his Alzheimers-afflicted wife. Four months earlier Snelling had responded to Brooks’ request for “Life Reports” with a long essay on how caring for his wife had made him a richer, fuller human being. Then he decided to end it all, for both of them.

Brooks notes that many readers responded with approval to Snelling’s decision. He, though, points out that Snelling had completely reversed his feelings over four months; how could he know that he would not reverse those feelings again in another four months? “If our capacities for imagining the future are bad in normal times, they are horrible in moments of stress and suffering.

“Given these weaknesses, it seems wrong to make a decision that will foreclose future thinking….. It’s better to respect the future, to remain humbly open to your own unfolding.”

My father died of Alzheimers and I was fairly involved in his care, so I have some feeling for what Snelling went through. It’s extraordinarily difficult. At the same time, caring for loved ones with dementia is not necessarily all nightmare. When I think back on those years, the memories are bittersweet. I wouldn’t trade them, though I also wouldn’t want to live them again.

For one thing, you find people and organizations that bail you out, time and again. Extraordinary folks with the gift of caring enter your life, though you never knew such people existed. There’s a rich underside to the tapestry of life, made up of people who never win awards or get paid well but who care for the vulnerable with amazing indifference to their own sacrifice. You can’t be the same person after you get to know them.

Caring for a loved one who is bereft of his or her intellect is both maddening and tender, exhausting and enriching. Both. It can and does bring family members together with a closeness they have never experienced. Are good things guaranteed? No, certainly not. But you will never know if you don’t carry on.

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3 Responses to “Facing Alzheimers”

  1. Clay Knick Says:

    Spot on, Tim. I’ve been there, too. My mother had Alzheimer’s for five years before she died. The first few years were fair, mostly or sort of managed with meds. Then came the very hard part. Very. Now and then the “real” mom would pop out and we’d enjoy that so much. My sister did the lion’s share of caring for her at the end. God’s grace got us through it all. Thanks for this.

  2. kathy karlen Says:

    I so agree Tim. I work with folks with Alzheimers. There are so many resources now, and a very comprehensive evaluation system for the stage of Alzheimers. The system includes very specific recommendations on how to help your loved one succeed at daily tasks by setting up the environment for them and what verbal and tactile cues to give them so they succeed when performing daily tasks like brushing teeth, dressing, playing a game. Ask your friendly neighborhood Occupational Therapist. This does make things a bit easier for the caregiver, definitely NOT EASY, but easier. I see family’s struggle with this, and rejoice with them when their loved one does appear for a moment or two during the later stages.

  3. Links and Notes for April 5 | Leadingchurch.com Says:

    […] 5 months later takes her life and his own should be read. There is much to ponder in this piece. Tim Stafford’s take on caring for his father with Alzheimer’s. Share […]

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