Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 scotchie42, Community Member, asks

Q: My Mother keeps asking me where my "dead" father is. What should I say?

My 90 year old Mom, in an Assisted Home, questions me daily "why did Harold just leave me out here? Why doesn't he come to see me?" She acts like Pop is still alive and that he has abandoned her. When I tell her that Dad died 15 years ago, she acts as though it the first time that she has heard about it, and she wails and cries and mourns.

My question is should I just lie to her and tell her that Dad his just on a trip or something, or should I continually tell her that he has passed on. It seems cruel for her to have to hear that news over and over again daily, like it was the first time.

She acts like she has been abandoned by my Father as it is. If I tell her that Dad is just on a trip or something that will reinforce the idea that he has abandoned her.  

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Answers (9)
Carol Bradley Bursack, Health Guide
11/17/09 10:17am

This is one of the hardest things we deal with. Not everyone agrees with me, but I think there is a point (and your instincts are telling your this) that a "therapeutic lie" is kinder than the hard truth when they must grieve over and over. Telling her he is on a trip but that she will see him soon, that he loves her and wants the best care for her, etc. may help. Each day will be different, so each time you will have to go with your gut. Many of us have been there, so we are with you in our hearts.

 

Carol

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scotchie42, Community Member
11/17/09 4:09pm

Thank you Carol. Thank you, thank you.

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Gloria, Community Member
6/12/12 11:14am

We are dealing with the same issue with our mother. We all agreed to tell her he is working  because when she ask again she has forgotten that we said that already. I think it is easier on her than to tell her he is dead and have her get all upset. I guess there are no correct answers on how to handle this but just do the best we can. I love my mother and am taking as good a care as possible so I don't have any guilt about telling her "lies".

 

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Carol Bradley Bursack, Health Guide
6/12/12 11:21am

Hi Gloria,

You are right - there's not a perfect answer. However, you can judge from how your mom reacts. It sounds to me like you've figured it out. Caregiving is often very hard. "Lies" that save a loved one with dementia unnecessary grief are not lies - they are therpeutic, um, fibs : ) Whatever we want to label them, they are okay.

Blessings,

Carol

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NC, Community Member
6/12/12 12:16pm

It depends on her stage. If she is not so sick yet, then she will know about her husband. Sometimes the family tells the person the truth and sees how she reacts. Sometimes if she is too sick, the family can just distract her. My FIL knew his late wife died so we didn't lie about it but lately given severe stage, we don't talk about the late wife and he forgot about it as well. There is a real story when the son told the father that his wife/the son's Mom just died in the other room in the same nurisng home, the father was depressed and died right afterwards since the father was sick as well. Sometimes if the death is very close, the spouse may follow as well. So be careful about telling the truth. It really varies from person to person.

 

Regards,

NC

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NC, Community Member
11/17/09 11:49am

I was told 3 years ago in 2007 by an administrator in a nursing home that the caregiver will just tell her that he is not here and distract her for activities and something else.

 

It does not work if you explain in details, truth or lies. The best thing is to be

vague about it. To say exactly "where he is" is not going to help as she would ask about more details.

My FIL at times asked about his late wife but so far he is ok with it and he even asked to "resurrect" her. In the future, he may do the things your Mom does. For now, his way of mourning is to chase other ladies. I think this is the advantage for men. For women, one can only say he is not here and distract her.

 

Hope this helps,

Nina

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scotchie42, Community Member
11/17/09 4:11pm

Thanks Nina. i am so glad that I posted this question. I was proceeding in the other direction.

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NC, Community Member
11/17/09 4:21pm

You are welcome! Actually I now remember at times my FIL asked my husband where his late wife (my late MIL) was and my husband would be honest to tell him she died. But he forgot how she died and my husband didn't bother to tell him the details. My FIL felt sad for a while but he forgot about it later on. He does not depend on his late wife now so he moved on. At times he asked where she was and once he told the home care nurse that his late wife "abandoned" him to follow some other man. But he was not very emotional as he just needed to talk to another lady.

Maybe you can find some male friends for your Mom. The romance won't work out but at least give them something to do or chat/imagine about. I personally think since they forget a lot, they are not really missing the late spouse, but they want a spouse to be there. That is, they want another mate.

 

Take care,

Nina

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AFA Social Services, Health Guide
11/17/09 12:17pm

Grieving can be difficult for anyone who has suffered a significant loss, producing emotions and feelings such as sadness, anger or hopelessness.  An individual can display shock or disbelief regarding the loss.  It is important to keep in mind, that although your mother is forgetting, she may still experience these feelings, even though it was many years ago.  Reviewing the details of your father’s death may be too difficult for your mother to cope with regardless of her diagnosis.  Each moment she is aware of the fact that her husband has died, she could become upset as if it is the first time she is hearing this terrible news.  Aside from the loss, it is possible she is feeling insecure without him present, so it is essential she know there are people who will care for her in his absence.

The next time your mother is asking for your father, you can redirect her to a better state of mind by distracting her with something positive.  As opposed to telling her he is on a trip, you should consider examples such as “I know you miss dad, tell me about your favorite time with him” or “I miss dad too and I know he knows you love him.  I promise he would never abandon you.”  Another technique is to use photos such as from their wedding or other family event and reflect on past happy memories together.  These are valuable techniques that will allow your mother to feel comforted and hopefully ease any anxiety.  In addition, these ways will allow her to reminisce, while also providing her with the relief and reassurance needed related to his loss.

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scotchie42, Community Member
11/17/09 4:19pm

I am going to try and tell mom that pop loves her and I know they will be together soon. If she forces the issueI don't know where I will tell her that he is.

My predicament is magnified by the fact that my mom and pop were NEVER seperated for the 50+ years that they were married, except for the 4 years that pop served in the Army overseas during WWII.

I know that if I tell her that is is off working somewhere, she is just going to want me to take her to him.

I guess I will come up with something. 

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Dorian Martin, Health Guide
11/17/09 2:24pm

Hi, Scotchie 42,

 

I agree with Carol about the "therapeutic lie". When Mom was looking for someone who was no longer alive, I would tell her that I was sure she would see the person sometime soon and then work in a statement about how much the person cares about her. I also found that as her Alzheimer's progressed, Mom's "reality" was her own and was not one that I shared. Therefore, I felt it would be cruel to continually have to correct her when she would just return to her own world caused by the dementia and would have "visitors" such as her long-deceased parents and others. Therefore, I opted for what I believed would be kindness instead of the need to be correct.

 

Take care and keep us posted!

 

Dorian

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scotchie42, Community Member
11/17/09 4:20pm

Thanks Dorian, I am going to try this approach.

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Joseph, Community Member
11/18/09 2:30am

Hi "scotchie42",

 

You've received many good answers to your question.  If your 90 year old mom can't remember Harold's death, there is nothing wrong with making excuses for his absense.  Why torment her with the need to relive the grief of his passing.  Don't let some moral concerns about truthfulness add un-needed torment.  Tell her that she'll see him pretty soon.  "He can't be here right now... but you'll see him soon."  It's an okay thing to do and it shows a lot of compassion.  If you are religious, that statement won't conflict with your desire to be honest with her.  Beyond that, distraction is an excellent tool to get past the question.  Put some nice framed photographs of Harold in the room and maybe she won't miss him quite so much.  Good luck with this! -- Joe

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scotchie42, Community Member
11/18/09 9:10am

Thanks Joseph. That makes it unanimous.

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Bob V, Community Member
11/19/09 6:00am

My partner is in the late stages of AD, and he keeps asking if his parents are alive.  I tell him the truth they passed away a few years back.  But I reinforce that they had a wonderful long life and they loved him very much.  I recite some stories he related to me that bring back good times they shared together as a family.  This seems to work and he is happy and relives the past for a few moments.  I see him whispers I love you mom and dad, and eyes water up.  But I can tell he is fine and I suggest that we get on with our day and he moves on to another subject.  It sounds so simply and naïve, but sometimes things don't need to be complicated.  I don't believe in lying, the truth is always best in my opinion.

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scotchie42, Community Member
11/19/09 10:28am

This seemed to work with her Mom and Dad, but as soon as she realized that I was talking about Harold being dead she would let out an extended blood curdling scream and go into hysterics.

I cannot believe that repeating this over and over on an almost daily basis is in any way, shape or form, the right thing to do. 

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Linda, Community Member
11/19/09 10:06am

I pretty much take the middle of the road on this, leaning a bit on the therapeutic lie.  When mom asks about dad (who died in 1992) I tell her he's in heaven and can't be with her just now.  For instance, dad's having dinner with God, or God has dad busy doing other things.  I tell her she'll be with him soon but that dad loves her.  Then I try to talk about the wonderful years they had and how lucky we were to have him.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes not.  When she still insists he's "there", I just accept it and tell her how fortunate that dad could come "visit".  None of this is easy, and sadly it gets worse.  Just know that you're doing the best you can and treat your mother softly and with love and compassion.

 

Linda

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BJGarry, Community Member
11/19/09 1:10pm

The truth is always best.  

 

I've found I make the right decisions when I put myself in my mom's shoes. I would feel worse to think my living husband was intentionally neglected me.

 

Perhaps a softer way to tell her of his death would be, "Mom, Harold is waiting for you to join him in heaven some day"

 

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butterflies88, Community Member
11/20/09 2:09pm

My mom is 87 and she has what I call the death talk alot. She asks about not only dad(he died in 1988) but everyone from her brothers passing and the people who lived on the hill here. I tell her that they went to heaven and most of the time she fine with that, that's why I never change what I tell her. But everyone is different so you do what you think is best for your mom. I will pray for you and your mom. Have a Bless day, Cindi

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By scotchie42, Community Member— Last Modified: 03/11/14, First Published: 11/17/09