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I have facilitated holidays for my parents for over a decade as we have grappled our way through the various stages of this disease. In the beginning, my parents looked forward to time with friends and family. As the disease progressed, shorter periods of togetherness and a designated space where they could escape to periods of quiet calm became necessary. Ultimately, we learned to be flexible, with my parents’ needs being our utmost priority.
In the final stages of Mom’s disease, her interest and appetite greatly diminished. One Thanksgiving, in particular, we took turns painstakingly attempting to feed her tasty traditions, with little success. As the dishes were being cleared, we noticed just a tiny bite of pumpkin pie left on Mom’s plate. Thrilled at her apparent sudden interest in food, yet also curious to notice Dad chuckling, we soon discovered our dog, Coby, sitting beside Mom. He eagerly accepted the next delicious bite she offered on a fork.
We have now journeyed through seven years of holidays absent of her presence. Continuing these traditions with Dad has been a priority. Last spring, my youngest daughter went to pick up her Pop for Easter dinner. She returned from retrieving him, walked into the busy kitchen where we were preparing the meal, and announced she needed help getting Pop out of the car.
What ensued over the next forty-five minutes was essentially a parade.
Neighbors would witness us filing out of the house, with rolls, then butter, cookies, and eventually balloons, in an attempt to coax my father out of the car. Different philosophies were shared: the roll should not be offered until he is inside, versus if he tastes it he will want to come in for more. I am still on the fence over this.
What I do know is our production was nothing short of a circus. Looking back, I am in awe of our crazy antics. Every trick in the book was pulled out, even driving the car around the block and back as we reset the stage, pretending to greet Dad for the first time. (I know some of you are familiar with this one.) He was not budging. Not the mystery we were making of it - he simply did not want to come in. My father chose to miss Easter dinner for the first time in as long as I can remember.
He chose to miss Easter dinner for the first time in forever.
I have a beautiful collection of memories with my dad on Easter, from church in my childhood to Easter egg hunts with my kids. He was master egg hider who loved to tuck a few in unreachable crooks of trees and, most notably, in a crevasse under the stone bench in our backyard. Not this year. I wept, inconsolably, at the thought of not having Dad around my table.
I am not proud of the fact I openly cried in the car as I drove my father home. I will never forget the look of curious concern on his face. However, after the sting subsided and I dried my tears, I realized it really was okay. Dad wanted to be home in his easy chair. He was not in the mood for our crazy bunch this particular day - and that is okay. Our loved ones still have a will. As it turns out, sometimes Dad has a better idea of what he needs than I do.
Alzheimer’s patients do not deal well with being rushed or forced to do anything. Additionally, our loved ones now have a patent on the word “No.” Sometimes we must search ardently for a reason they would want to cooperate. Above all, it is necessary to attempt to see things from their perspective. We must follow their lead, allow our loved ones to make the choices they can, and not get our feelings hurt because of them.
It is a common mistake to place what we think we are supposed to do above what is in the best interest of our loved one. Although it makes me sad to think Dad will not be joining our family meal this year, I know in my heart he is happier in his own environment. In these final stages, his world has become quite small. This is where he finds comfort and security. I must look beyond what is important to me and honor what is best for him.
Our traditions will continue this year as our family and friends gather to enjoy an Easter meal and balloon release in remembrance of those we are missing. We will also spend precious moments at my father’s Memory Care. He will smile at his Easter basket filled with chocolates. The day will not pass without Dad knowing he is immensely loved. All of this will be done with one common goal: The celebration of our Risen Savior!
Wishing you and yours a beautiful Easter!
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