who will he be today?

Old Man 14037671409_bbb2f90095_cOne day he seems almost normal – making jokes, telling stories, expressing gratitude, communicating lucidly.

The next day he feeds animals that don’t exist; is irrationally paranoid and fearful, freezes in the middle of thoughts and sentences, and cannot remember how to accomplish basic life tasks, how old he is, or even his daughters’ names.

I do not know which father I will greet each morning.

That is dementia.

I have decided it reminds me of living with a teenager – one moment “almost” mature and grown up: making wise decisions, communicating with confidence and respect, interacting as an adult peer. The next moment acting like a child again: thoughtless of action consequences, emotional or surly, insecure and overly dependent. A roller coaster of crisis and climax.

That is dementia.

I am learning again how to help. Stay calm and do not escalate the situation by attempting to reason or argue. Use a quiet, clear, slow voice, respect, and a gentle touch. Do not let his response trigger my past father/daughter issues; do not react defensively, with anger, or with impatience. Do not surprise him with a change of plans or expect him to learn something new or hope for consistency from day-to-day.

I long for a standardized to-do list that I can follow faithfully each day. A defined cause and effect that I can rely on. A “2 + 2 = 4” dependability.

Dementia does not offer that.

Instead I need to face each day with grace, flexibility, prayer, and love-motivated sacrifice of my wishes and desires.

Unlike rasing a teenage, there is no chance that this situation will improve, that he will grow out of this stage, that he will get better. I can only anticipate more of the same or something worse. He is not making progress; he is declining towards the end.

That is dementia.

Who will I greet in the morning? An elderly man. A child of God. A test of my character. My father.

How do you face the challenges in your life that will not get any easier? 

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**If you are a person of prayer, please pray for my father and my family… wisdom for future decisions, strength for daily choices of love and sacrifice. Thank you.

better now than later!

photo credit: US National Archives’ Photostream

My parents are getting older. I haven’t been around to watch it happen little by little each day, but with each visit I experience time’s passing more dramatically. A few days ago, I was able to spend some extended time with my dad… He can’t get around like he could before. He forgets things and is easily confused. He doesn’t hear well. He needs help with simple tasks.

It is hard for me to watch him struggle. I am sure it is hard for him to have to struggle. He was a strong, independent, military man in his younger years; he does not like to have to depend on anyone.

I have to admit that his deteriorated health and weakened condition scared me a bit… I am like my father in many ways. I have always been energetic and strong, and I do not like to need other people to help me. I have always had a quick mind and the ability to accomplish my dreams and goals by working hard. I felt anxious and fearful thinking about how old age will affect me in the future.

Beyond the physical challenges, some of the hardest things for me during the visit with my dad were his words. He was critical and accusing with irrational, belittling comments. I could excuse some of his behavior as a result of his encroaching senility, but the truth is… this was not something new. I remember that, even when he was younger, he used to blame others for something he had misplaced or for an error he had made.

I don’t really consider myself “old”… yet!  But this visit with my father has challenged me to consider my own words and actions today. Nancy Ortberg, in her book Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands, says, “…people who resist change and hold on to the old ways when they are in their twenties become people who resist change and hold on to old ways when they are older. People who embrace change and gravitate toward new ideas in their twenties become people who embrace change and gravitate toward new ideas when they are older.”

I have also heard that as we get older, our negative character traits will not diminish but become even more pronounced. If my character traits and behaviors of today will magnify when I am older… what will I be like?

I came up with some questions to consider now… How do I react to illness and physical challenge? How do I use my time, especially when my energy is low? How do I handle limitations and the need for help from others? Do I blame others for my mistakes? How do I react to change and new ideas? What can I work on today… so that I enter “old age” gracefully?

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What do you think about preparing now for “old age”?