What If Your Valentine Has Dementia?

Caregiver, patient expert

Has your spouse’s dementia made him forget that there is such a day as Valentine’s Day? Worse yet, has your spouse forgotten who you are?

Under these circumstances, the second being far more devastating than the first, why would you want to go through the motions of celebrating Valentine’s Day? You want to go through it because celebration is part of normal life, no matter how skewed the actual event seems. Also, this day honors your love, past and present.

I’m fortunate to not have, at this time anyway, gone through dementia with a spouse, but I’ve been through it with my parents. To say that any holidays that celebrated their union were tough on me is to understate my feelings. My own sadness has to be magnified many times for those of you who are traveling this journey with your spouse. Yet I still believe that important days should be honored and if I were to go through it with a spouse, I would celebrate Valentine's Day.

Going through the motions with my parents

Not only was Dad a man who didn’t dread Valentine’s Day, he was a man who looked forward to having Mom’s favorite yellow roses delivered and presenting her with a mushy card and dinner out.

Therefore, even after the surgery that threw him into instant dementia made it impossible for him carry on with the tradition, I felt bound to honor his need to show his love for Mom. I had to demonstrate what was in Dad’s heart.

I dreaded orchestrating the pantomime that had to serve as their Valentine’s Day celebration because it was so sad. But I did it anyway. I not only bought the card for Dad to give to Mom and signed it for him, I guided his hand as I nudged him forward in his chair so that he could give it to her.

During the last seven years of Dad’s life, Mom, too, lived in the nursing home, so I ordered the flowers to be delivered to each of them from the other, bought the cards and even a miniature bottle of wine. Mom could sign the card and I could help her walk to Dad’s room for the event, but it was all orchestrated by me, the caregiver.

My parents needed to celebrate this day of love that was still in their hearts. Yes, Dad’s inability to actively participate was hard on Mom, who did know what it was all about. But it was not as horrible as pretending the day didn’t exist. To do that would have ignored their history and their marriage.

Once there is a dementia diagnosis of any kind, the whole family starts living with dementia, not just the diagnosed person. The spouse is particularly affected. Carrying on with holidays the best that one can is part of that living.

So, this Valentine’s Day, celebrate in any way that makes sense to you. Early in a diagnosis, you may be able to share an even closer celebration as a couple knowing that this progressive disease will alter your loved one with time.

As time goes on, your celebrations, too, may seem like mere pantomimes. On the surface this may seem useless - even painful. But in your heart and the heart of your spouse, it’s still a celebration of love.

Do what you can to acknowledge your marriage on this day of love. Then, if tears come, and likely they will, you’ll still know that you honored your marriage and what it still means even if the event was a painful reminder of how much you’ve lost.

Carol is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. She runs award winning websites at _ www.mindingourelders.com and_www.mindingoureldersblogs.com.  On Twitter, f_ollow Carol @mindingourelder and on Facebook:_ Minding Our Elders

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