Saying Goodbye to What Was
by Laurel Hed,
Geriatric Care Manager
For those of you living with a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease, you have probably recognized the truth behind the saying; the long goodbye.
As this disease progresses, a person finds themselves saying goodbye to bits and pieces of their loved one as well as to life as they have known it.
What I have found to be difficult is that for the longest time mom may say or do something quite odd and then flip back to her old self. During those earlier years I would ask myself if I was the one with the problem and mom was just fine.
Alzheimers is sneaky that way. Unlike many other terminal illnesses, Alzheimers robs the person of memory, as well as who they were as a person. Compared to other diseases such as cancer or heart disease, where their bodies decline but often their mind stays intact, families can still feel somewhat connected to their loved one. With Alzheimers there is a disconnect as they gradually forget who you are or even who they are.
So, I find myself saying goodbye to the mom I once had who loved to play games and was very competitive. To the mom who loved to read and tell children’s stories. To the mom who could do beautiful counted cross stitch. And to the mom who really enjoyed working outside especially in her vegetable garden. Mom can no longer do any of these things and has asked me; What am I good for now? I am quick to say; You have no idea how blessed I am to be able to come to see you, get your great hugs, and enjoy all of our giggles.
The one thing that Teepa Snow points out when she talks about the GEMS State Model is that with Alzheimers, it is progressive, and we do feel like we are losing the person we love before they have died. But my mom and your loved one are still in there and we need to be on the lookout. Just as an ugly oyster shell can open to show a beautiful pearl hidden inside, so it is with our loved one. When you least expect it, we get a peek of their old self and what an awesome experience that is. When it happens, be sure to treasure that memory. I have seen it happen with two of my clients and to this day it brings me joy when I think how awesome that experience was.
Laurel Hed obtained her degree in Social Work at Mankato State University in 1995. For the first few years Laurel worked as a nursing home Social Worker. Laurel spent 13 years working as a Hospice Social Worker for St. Joseph’s Hospice and a Caregiver Support Coach with the Living at Home Program, both of which are in the Park Rapids, Minnesota area. In 2013, Laurel became a Certified Geriatric Care Manager. Laurel is now employed with Thomason, Swanson & Zahn, PLLC as a Geriatric Care Manager.