There are few things in life as devastating as grieving for the loss of a parent who is still alive. Assisting clients with the Medicaid process brings me front and center with those who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and the family members who care for them. Because of the impact this disease has on an elder’s cognitive abilities, I am often working with a client’s Attorney-in-Fact pursuant to the client’s Power of Attorney to complete the Medicaid process. These Attorney-in-Facts are typically one (or more) of the client’s children. (This is just another reminder of why a good Power of Attorney is important). It is difficult to describe the feelings that these adult children express while going through the process of realizing the role between them and their parents are permanently changing.
The impact I see most often in working with families who are in the middle of this transition is the denial and then grief that comes with understanding the parent who was always there for their children is no longer going to be able to serve in that role – or will have a diminished ability to do so. In the beginning, it is incredibly difficult for many to acknowledge and accept that change. Losing the emotional support that a parent provides is a hard thing to grapple with.
Next comes the realization that the adult child is now the emotional support system for the parent. This about turn in the relationship is oftentimes so powerfully emotional that it temporarily changes those going through it. Throw into the mix needing to immediately find a parent a safe nursing community to live in and deciding what to do with her home, belongings, and assets, and it is enough to bring tears to the eyes of many of the adult children I work with.
We understand, though. We see our clients and their families go through this process over and over again. It is not easy to be a part of, but I wish I could reach through and say “You will get through this and be better and stronger in the end.” I do oftentimes say this, but they typically cannot really believe it until they are through on the other side.
Dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in my own family is just as much of a challenge. Seeing someone I love turn into someone I still love, but who I am not sure recognizes me sometimes is hard to handle. When I remember things my family member does not from our past, I remind myself that I now hold the memories for both of us.
It is a process to go through. There is no timeline of how long it will last. There is no way to know how the stress of such a transition will affect us until we are in the thick of it. But, having seen adult children time after time pull through and come out making peace with their new role and the new role of their parent is very touching. Assisting them through the transition is rewarding and I feel grateful to be a part of such an intimate time in a family when they often need just a little help getting through it together. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia is a time to contemplate changes to our relationships and an opportunity for deeper understanding of the ones we love as their memory of us slowly starts to fade away. Love, in the end, is the emotion I see hold strongest for these families.
Below are some helpful resources for those going through this process:
What’s Your Grief, Ambiguous Grief: Grieving Someone Who is Still Alive, https://whatsyourgrief.com/ambiguous-grief-grieving-someone-who-is-still-alive/
What’s You Grief, Grieving Before A Death: Understanding Anticipatory Grief, https://whatsyourgrief.com/anticipatory-grief/
Alz.org: alzheimer’s association, Grief and Loss as Alzheimer’s Progresses, https://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-grief-loss.asp
Alz.org: alzheimer’s association, Just Diagnosed, https://www.alz.org/i-have-alz/just-diagnosed.asp
American Hospice Foundation, Alzheimer’s Disease and Grieving Caregivers, https://americanhospice.org/caregiving/alzheimers-disease-and-grieving-caregivers/
USA Today, The part of aging that people don’t talk about – and 5 ways to deal with it, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/01/07/part-aging-people-dont-talk-and-5-ways-deal/1008272001/