My husband recently told me that he doesn’t remember what I was like before my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I guess that’s fair. We only started dating one year before I started noticing changes in my mom and only two years before she was officially diagnosed. We actually got engaged the same month my mom was diagnosed.
My husband knows how to love an Alzheimer’s daughter because that’s all he’s ever known. He loves me and so, he loves an Alzheimer’s daughter. But there might be some people out there who aren’t exactly sure how to deal with it. Maybe you knew your wife or girlfriend long before her parent was diagnosed and now all you know is that she’s changed. Maybe her parent was just diagnosed and you’re trying to navigate your new normal. Maybe you just met her and you already know you love her, but you’re just not sure how to love an Alzheimer’s daughter.
I’ll tell you.
First of all, hug her more than seems necessary. She can never get enough hugs. She needs to be physically reminded of your love and support for her. She needs to know that although her parent may no longer be able to hug her, you can. When you don’t know what to do or what to say, just hug her. Hold her. Never be the first to break away.
Don’t try to fix everything. She doesn’t talk about her feelings or vent to you so that you can offer her solutions. You can’t fix it. She knows that. She doesn’t expect you to even try. She just needs someone to listen without judgement, even if you don’t fully understand what she’s going through. You don’t have to. You just have to listen.
Never, and I mean never, say “but this” or “at least that.” No, just no. She knows she still has a lot to be grateful for. She knows better than anyone because she knows loss better than anyone. She doesn’t need you to remind her. She knows what she has and she knows what she’s lost. She doesn’t need to look on the bright side or think positive thoughts. There’s a time and a place for positivity, but right now it just sucks. And that’s all she needs to hear.
Understand that she will often feel sad for apparently no reason. Understand that there is most definitely a reason. She is watching her parent disappear, slowly and painfully, right before her eyes. She grieves each and every loss along the way, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. She is losing the person who raised her. She is grieving the loss of that person. She is grieving a death that has yet to come. Her parent is becoming someone she doesn’t even recognize and there’s nothing she can do about it. She is sad. She is always sad. She has every reason to be.
Don’t tell her how to grieve. Let her cry when she wants to. Let her talk about her parent when she wants to. Let her show you pictures. Let her tell you when something reminds her of her parent. Let her tell you why it makes her sad. Let her keep all of the things that remind her of her parent. Don’t make her throw them away. Don’t make her go to the places that make her sad. Don’t make her decorate for the holidays before she’s ready. Understand that holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions will be hard for her. Let her eat leftover spaghetti on Christmas and pretend it’s just another day. Let her stop and stare at the Mother’s Day display with tears in her eyes and a longing in her heart. Don’t make her do anything she doesn’t want to do. Let her grieve.
Above all, just be there for her. Hug her. Listen to her. Go easy on her. Send her flowers. Make her a Mother’s Day card from your kids or your dogs. Make her eggs for breakfast. Take her to Panera for lunch. Surprise her with sushi for dinner. Let her buy random things from Amazon and Target. Let her know how much you appreciate her.
Just love her.
She needs it more than you know.
She is in a dark and ugly place, but your love will help her see the beauty and the light.
Give her time. She will learn to laugh again.
She’s still the girl you once knew.