As daddy’s illness progressed, one of the many changes we saw in him was his inability to remember things correctly. Not only did he remember things incorrectly but he could fabricate the truth entirely! Sometimes we’d have to admonish him not to repeat something that could be potentially hurtful to another person. Then there were instances where we had to laugh about the things he would come up with but other times it was more shocking like “Holy Cow! Where did that come from?”
This was most difficult on momma to watch and listen to. At times what daddy would be talking about would be something she experienced alongside him. For him to get the details wrong was frustrating for her to accept. It was during those times that she would try to gently correct him – to straighten out the story – to put the right name with the right person – to remind him that what he said hadn’t actually happened. As you can imagine, these gentle, well-meaning corrections were not well received by daddy and could create quite an issue of belligerence.
My sister and I would tell momma that it was okay. We’d try to make her understand that we knew daddy’s stories weren’t always on point any longer and that we could filter thru and separate fact from fiction. Most of what we couldn’t filter really didn’t matter anyway…so it was fine, really. Momma, however, had a hard time letting that go. She didn’t want him saying false things or misleading people. To her, living with him and watching him decline, it didn’t seem as obvious to others that he was having mental health issues. To us and others, it was glaringly obvious. Once momma let that go, it was better for both of them. She could relax and let him be how he now was, and he could finish a story without being corrected.
That may sound rather bossy on momma’s part – but I assure you, it was done in love. She wanted daddy to look and sound good. She was concerned about how he might seem to people. He was always proud and she wanted to maintain that proudness for him. The only difference was – she was the only one bothered by his lapses in memory or facts…he was just fine.
I remember one time, when talking to momma, I told her to just not worry and try not to correct him…or just let him believe what he wants to believe. She in slight anguish told me “But I just can’t lie to him”. And there it was. Truth was always such a big issue. Lying is wrong. You don’t lie to those you love and you don’t let them believe a lie. Right? Well...yes…and no. Truth becomes different when you have Alzheimer’s. Truth becomes whatever the Alzheimer’s patient needs it to be. (As long as it doesn’t physically harm them.) Truth becomes a mystery. Lies become a comfort.
Daddy was 80 years old when he was placed in a 24 hour care facility. When going thru the adjustment phase, he often asked about his own momma and daddy. He had to get “home”…and by home, he meant the house he was born and grew up in. His momma and daddy had left him there and he needed to get home. He was mad at his brothers for not coming to get him.
His daddy had died more than 50 years prior. His momma had passed on more than 30 years before. Only one brother was still surviving. But to my daddy, it was 1940 something. Somethings you just don’t correct. Momma tried to correct him about their passing and it was as if he was experiencing brand new grief over the loss again. Tragic.
One of the last times he mentioned his parents to me he told me he was not happy with them. He needed to get home and they’d just left him there. He asked me if I’d seen his momma and daddy recently. I replied (honestly) “no sir, I haven’t”. When his face fell in sorrow…I added “but if I do, I’ll let them know to come for you”. That was a truth. And his face lit up with satisfaction and a nod.
Live in the moment with your loved one. If they are back in the Korean War and concerned about their drill Sergeant…just go with it. If they need to catch a train and ask about the train schedule…just tell them you don’t know where it is. If they say they are going home tomorrow…just tell them how happy you are for them. If they make up some character and tell you some wild story…just listen and respond like it’s the honest truth. If you had just visited the day before and they are mad because you haven’t been to see them in weeks…just tell them you’re sorry and will have to do better. In my experience, they are satisfied and move on to other things faster when you don’t correct them.
It’s not lying…it’s loving. Momma got more comfortable with that. She is able to live in the moment with him wherever he is. He doesn’t speak much now and he understands even less. He still holds her hand and still likes a kiss now and then.
She’s living in the moment with him.