Friday, June 17, 2016

Alzheimer's Everywhere

Today, an employee came to my office to talk. I closed the door, she sat down, and told me her husband has Alzheimer's.  She's 70; he's 82.  He still lives at home with her and she is his primary caregiver.  She has someone come to the house to sit with him so she can work a few days a week "just for the break", as she put it.  But it is getting to a point where she feels she will need to take the inevitable next step because he's becoming more than she can handle.  Her guilt, she said, is mostly what is preventing her from doing what she said she knows she has to do.  And yet she has no idea why she feels guilty.

She caught him the other night, standing on a chair in the kitchen trying to turn off the ceiling fan while the blade was spinning.  She yelled at him to get down.  He yelled back at her to leave him alone because he needed to fix it.  She said there was nothing broken and for him to get down before he fell down.  They struggled with the chair.  He hit her.  She cried.  And she knew this was no longer her husband.

Mom and Dad, May 2016
Initially she came to me to ask about potential leave options for when she would need to make the dreaded next step.  After we worked all that out, I decided to share with her my parents' story.

I told her about Dad who developed this same disease 5 or so years ago and how my mother had to eventually make those same dreaded decisions.  I told her about Mom's commitment to Dad, and I told her what I have said to Mom many times:
The vows you took were to 'love, honor and cherish' your husband 'in sickness and in health'.  You did not vow to take care of him; you vowed to stick by him, be his advocate, see him through the ordeal, support him, but certainly not to do it all yourself.  There will come a time when you will realize that someone must be able to do a better job than you.  Accept that it's not your failure.  It's being realistic, fair, brave, and devoted to his care.
I told her that she needed to take care of herself first.  And that for selfish reasons, it's not fair to her kids for both she and her husband to be in failing health.  As I spoke to her, she would smile and nod.  She cried a few times and said that everything I was saying to her was exactly what her daughter has been saying to her as well.  And I could only understand how conflicted and troubled she felt because I see Mom continue to go through it.  Realizing that something is beyond your control, regardless of what that something is, takes incredible self-realization, confidence, and acceptance.

Talking with her made me miss being with my parents - both of whom have birthdays this month.  So when our meeting ended and the woman asked me if it was okay to hug me before she left my office, I was grateful for the opportunity.

When she left, I closed my door and cried for a few minutes.