Sunday, November 25, 2012


Thanksgiving was good! Paul's mom arrived on Wednesday and we had a good time together until Saturday morning. Everyone was civil and behaved beautifully, even when slightly uncomfortable topics were brought up. It was nice. Thursday was a lot of fun; we ate and cooked all day and watched the first season of Downton Abbey, which we had seen but she had not. As usual, a feast that takes three days of planning and buying, and three hours of preparation takes three minutes to eat- but it was good.

I had asked her whether she was willing to go visit my Dad and she was surprisingly enthusiastic about doing so; I think she might have been thinking about it before she came up. I told her I wouldn't be upset is she didn't feel up to it, but she assured me she did and we decided to go on Friday. Friday rolled around and the rain was biblical, but we decided to still make the trip and we headed over around eleven. There was Dad, relaxed on the couch as we walked in, and he actually focused on me as I leaned over him to say hello, his eyes somewhat aware and a pleasant expression on his face. I introduced my mother-in-law and then Paul moved forward to shake his hand with a smile - and the funniest thing happened. Dad didn't want to let go of Paul's hand, he kept grasping it firmly as I sat down next to him, so Paul kept leaning over, grasping Dad's hand back. It was kind of cute.

As we all sat around Dad, with his caregiver and another resident on the couch, we had a great time. Dad didn't really participate in the conversation, and he had his eyes closed part of the time, but he would chuckle when one of us said something funny or the group laughed, like he understood what was going on. Every now and then, he would open his eyes and look at me and smile a little, and it was just so nice. The caregiver told us he had enjoyed his Thanksgiving dinner so much, he wielded his fork by himself, which he had not done for a month or more. Dad always did like his turkey and stuffing! As we left, I looked him in the eye and held his hand and told him I loved him, and it was so lovely to actually feel his attention. We told Paul's mother how rare it was for him to be that active and alert and we all agreed what a nice visit it had been.

Later that night, I felt a little melancholy. Not for any particular thing but just because of the events of the day. It felt almost like I'd been validated, my one parent seen and greeted by my one in-law, our marriage legitimized in some strange way, and as if a big part of my life that so few people see had been witnessed and blessed. Dad had been in such a good mood, it was truly a gift. And later, when Paul's mom told me how much I looked like him -that we had the same coloring and the same eyes - that made me sad, too, but just a little bit. It was just nice to have someone not myself see that and find it important.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Meeting of In-Laws.

Here we are, approaching the holiday yet again; it seems like this year went by so fast. My mother-in-law is flying up to join my husband and I for Thanksgiving, which I think will be fun, despite the obvious cliches about having in-laws for the holiday! The good thing is that she's staying at a hotel, since we live in a Hobbit house. She'll be coming in on Wednesday, and Paul and I have been cleaning, and de-cluttering, and, today, grocery shopping in preparation. It's only the second time she's been to visit us since we've been together, the first time only a few months after we had moved in together. So the possibility that has been occupying my mind on and off for the last few weeks has never come up before. Should I bring her over to meet my Dad; introduce these two people who are now related by marriage?

It's a quandary. The first time I was married, my Father was still lucid and functional; he knew my husband and my husband's family and things were more or less the way they should be between in-laws. Now, though, I have, in essence, no parents, so the meeting of in-laws was never an issue when Paul and I got engaged. Since she's going to be here now, however, and I'd like to pay a visit to Dad over the weekend, the possibility exists that the in-laws could meet! More or less.

I'm trying to decide whether to even ask her, because I know she's feeling a little sad right now about some other friends she has that are suffering from dementia, and I don't want her to feel that I would be hurt if she declined the chance to meet Dad; and I really wouldn't! The problem is that, even when you reassure people you don't mind either way, they always think you do, and I don't want her to agree to go when she really would rather not. So there is my quandary. Whether or not to even ask her if she'd like to meet Dad, and how I would feel about it if we all trooped over there and sat around Dad while he snoozed, pretending this was normal. Which it's not.

I have to admit that there's a little part of me that would like to introduce her to my Dad, if only so that she could meet and see the person I talk so much about, whose illness has shaped my life in so many interesting ways. I can't deny that there is a part of me that would like to pretend its a meeting of in-laws, just like every other meeting of in-laws, even though its not. There's a big part of me that wishes sometimes that our lives were just like other people's, without the questions and challenges that dementia brings.

I guess I'll have to decide pretty soon what I'm going to do. Regardless, I think we'll have a good Thanksgiving, and I hope you all do as well, even if you have quandaries that are on your mind.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Happy Holidays...Or Not.

I was recently involved in a support group for those who have been newly bereaved. Everyone shared stories about who they had lost, and when, and how they were feeling about it; not one person was dry-eyed, not even the facilitators. We all had broken hearts, everyone facing what it was like to have to go on without the person we loved. It seemed to be the general consensus that nothing will ever be the same again; nothing will ever feel quite right again; the world, and we, will be forever changed. At no greater time is that more evident than during the holidays.

It being November, the question was asked about what to do during the upcoming stress-weeks we call the holidays. I remember quite clearly what that first Thanksgiving and Christmas was like without my Mother,to whom the holidays had always been important family events. We managed it by trying to maintain some element of how the holidays had always been for us, tempered with a few new activities, a few compromises. For Thanksgiving, we had dinner with the family of a good friend from Church; we still had the standard food and togetherness, but it wasn't at home, created by my Mom as it always had been. For Christmas, we insisted on a tree and gifts, and I even tried to make the same cookies, although fewer of them; but the day after Christmas, we took a trip to Mexico. (It turned out to be a disaster, but at least we tried!)

In time, I tried to make the holidays for everyone; using some of the old traditions, and creating new ones with my husband, then with my friends after my divorce. It got easier, but it never really stopped being strange. I'm happily married again, and my husband and I do something a little different each year, adding in whatever makes us happy from our pasts and our present. There will always be a sense of change, however, and of a certain alienation between how things were and how things are. We just manage as best we can.

The consensus during the group on how to deal with the holidays was, most importantly, be prepared. Don't let the holidays sneak up on you, make some sort of plan. But also, things won't be the same, so don't feel like you have to try to make them that way. Think of new traditions, new plans; don't hesitate to make the celebration smaller and quieter, or not have one at all. Don't overcommit yourself, but try not to be alone. Above all these things, do what you need to do for yourself and take care. Above all - take care.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


I went to see Dad this week, the day before Halloween, and I almost brought a trick or treat-sized candy bar in honor of the holiday! (I thought they might disapprove due to nutritional reasons, however!) As is often the case, two of the caregivers, both young men, were in the living room of Dad's House, watching tv and surfing the Internet. They are all nice men, and I think they do a fine job of caring for their charges, but as I walk down the hall to Dad's room,snoozing in his recliner chair like he usually is when I visit, I ponder.

I usually come by in the early afternoon, an hour or two after lunch is served to my Dad and the other residents, and I know that Dad gets drowsy in the afternoon, especially after his meal(don't we all!), but still, how much time do they allow him to spend in his recliner during the day? And that's the problem; I just don't know. I wonder if his caregivers could, or even should, be doing more to engage him, or if they're just leaving him to sleep the rest of his life away.

Granted, I don't think Dad is much for physical activity these days; they told me last time I visited that he didn't seem to want to walk much anymore. But couldn't they be talking to him, or encouraging him to come out into the living room with them? Or would he just end up snoozing on the living room couch instead of his recliner. And I have to ask myself, am I wondering about this because I'm worried about Dad's wellbeing, or because I feel guilty that he's here at all.

I suspect it's a little bit of both, since I know he's getting much better care here than he would with me. Someone asked me not long ago whether I still feel guilt about whether I'm doing the right thing by having Dad here, or whether I think about it at all, and I told her that I never really stop thinking about it and feeling slightly bad about resigning his care to other people, even though I know its for the best. I don't think anyone who has had to surrender care of their loved one to someone else ever really stops thinking about their choice, or wonders whether it was the right one. So as I sit here next to Dad, silently breathing with him, I know I'll probably always ponder about what the caregivers are doing, and whether it'll ever be enough.