THE SADNESS OF AN ELDERLY LOVED ONE LOST BEFORE DYINGNov 30th, 2011 | By Dr Jerry D Elrod | Category: Dr Jerry Elrod's Senior Moments Blog
Dying Before Death Arrives
There is an enormous loss when a loved one begins checking out before dying. The occasion is demonstrated in a variety of forms, over a period of time, but when it becomes evident to the observer, it is too late to ask those last lingering questions that are now locked behind those eyes and in that mind that no longer functions well. It is sad. It is painful. The recognition comes that what once was able to be shared so readily is now cocooned in a dark somewhere, impossible to plumb. If it is there, it is behind locked doors for which there is no key. Being able to say those remarkably precious words, “do you remember?” no longer applies. An end to one journey and the start of another has begun. Alzheimer’s strikes again.
Paranoia, dementia, Alzheimer’s, other cognitive functions and inabilities begin to show their ugly face. They take the form of sheer forgetfulness of selected things at first, and then more generic, more and more. Anger and paranoia are introduced toward and about persons for whom there is no logical reason to express or show anger or feel paranoia. Not knowing how to do things, where things are kept, why things work the way they do, wandering down a familiar street lost and aloof become frequent occurrences. How frightening, how troubling, how threatening.
The Pain of Loss
Why is my Mother being so mean? She isn’t. The part of her brain that heretofore produced pleasure and expressed pleasantness is now shutting down, claimed by the Alzheimer’s Thief. Why doesn’t she smile more? There is no reason to smile. The world has turned its back on her and everyone is whispering behind her back. How tragic! How overwhelming! How utterly and painfully real for her! Her brain chemistry is changing beyond human control.
Dad couldn’t remember who I was when I called him the other night. Do you know how depressingly lonely that makes me feel? Imagine the loneliness of the father. It is a little like holding the hand of someone in a large pool, suddenly the connection begins to slip, the hand of one loses its firm grip, begins slipping away, until at last contact is felt only with the tips of the fingers. Then the hand slides away in the dark waters and there is no longer any connection, any contact, any feeling.
Insidious as the diseases of the mind are, those of us who are experiencing them with a loved one are likely to experience even more dramatic implications; we need to prepare ourselves, ready our own minds for what may lie ahead.
In one of my previous incarnations, serving as pastor in a retirement community, I came to know well numerous couples, one of whom went through the agonies of memory loss. In one particular case, I recall the husband dedicating himself to 24/7 attentive care for his dear, precious and beloved wife. Through the struggle, he began to deteriorate in body, spirit and eventually predeceased her. That is how wicked the Alzheimer’s-like diseases of the mind can be. Like quicksand, it can draw everyone and everything into its vortex. Knowing how and when and with what limits to be available to another is an important calculation.
There is no immunization against Alzheimer’s. Were it possible to get an annual inoculation, similar to the flu shot, to head off such an awful and sometimes inevitable eventuality, most of us would opt for that. We would like not to go through the sheer inhuman experience of losing it. We would choose to have our family not to have to traverse such a rugged and horrible road behind us. Doing all possible, in the meantime, to savor what opportunities we have, to refine our ability to understand, and to be loving without exception will help us all to make it to the other side of the swamp, where imaginary demons and creatures no longer threaten our survival.