When my dad was hanging on for years, a friend in the eldercare profession would often ask why we were prolonging his life and, by implication, his misery. He was legally blind, although because of his dementia he didn’t know it so he never complained about it. He forgot he couldn’t read or walk without assistance.
My mother managed dad’s diabetes so well that my ex-husband, a physician, used to refer to dad as “the oldest living male diabetic.” He was amazingly stable, even if he was having a number of mini-crises related to blood sugar. He had Alzheimer’s disease and sometimes didn’t recognize us and–on rare occasions–became so confused he was combative. But most of the time he was a gentleman, even if in his mind we were strangers.
Why did we keep dad alive for so long?
As dad survived one health crisis after another, my friend would ask “Why do you keep treating him?”
My answer was always that as long as he could give and receive love, we couldn’t let go. His quality of life may have diminished, and it certainly put a cramp in my mother’s quality of life and a wrinkle in my sister’s. But who can put a limit on love?
Dad was happy to see each of his children every single time we walked in the front door, or into the room, or sat down beside him, or he turned his head away and back again. Each time it was as if we had just arrived and he was delighted. I know I couldn’t resist coming home to see a man who was thrilled to see me many times a day.
He gave great hugs until the day he lost consciousness in his last week of life.
Even though during his last years he sometimes thought one of his daughters was a man, or didn’t recognize his wife or home and wanted to be returned to his “other family,” he was fine as soon as he was soothed with music or some other familiar distraction. But the most compelling reason to keep treating him was that he wanted to live. Sometimes when he was sick or wondering why he felt so poorly, I would tell him how old he was and remind him he had lived a long and happy life.
“How long do you expect to live,” I asked once when he was 90. “Maybe to a hundred,” he said quite seriously. “This isn’t nearly long enough.”
And he was right. He had another year to go.Posted in Alzheimer’s, Caregiving, Support | 7 Comments »
Tags: aging, Alzheimer's disease, Caregiving