“We are taking one day at a time with our dad, Carl. He is back in his own home with 24-hour care and hospice. Most days are good but occasionally he has a rough day – not physically, but emotionally. We stop to see him every day and every day he wants us to stay. Although someone is always with him, he still feels alone. They are not his family. The leaving is the hardest part for all of us.
You can see the loneliness in his eyes and feel it when he hugs us goodbye.
A few weeks ago I had a dream, actually a nightmare. I was old. I was being taken to a home I didn’t recognize and into a room I had never been in before. I was looking around for anything familiar and there was nothing. I was in a wheelchair and someone was pushing me and someone was beside me, but I couldn’t turn enough to see who they were.
Once I am in my ‘new’ room they sit beside me and it is mom, Mary Jane, and she is younger. The other person is one of my daughters, but I can’t tell which one. My mom is telling me it will be OK. She is holding my hand and I am crying. I tell her I want to go home. I want to be with her or with my daughter, but they are both telling me I am home. I cry harder.
They sit with me for a while and then get up to leave. I feel like I can’t breathe. I don’t want to stay in this place, but I have no way of leaving. They kiss my head and tell me they love me and walk out the door leaving me in a room – alone. I am in this place with no way to escape. I sit in silence – alone – and it is the worst feeling I have ever felt.
I woke up and was overcome with the realization and sadness of elderly loneliness. We watched it unfold in front of us with my mom and dad. As dad lost mom to dementia, he lost his partner, his friend, his love, and day by day the loneliness seeped in and brought with it a sadness that would become all-consuming, and in turn, he needed us more.
As parents age and slow down, our lives do not. We are still busy with work, children, grandchildren, spouses, friends and life in general. We carve out a little part of our day or week to visit if we live close by, or less often if we live far away. We do our best to give them time but they long for so much more. They want things to be normal again. They want their spouse. They want to go for a walk – unassisted. They want to drive. They want us there to stop the loneliness that lingers throughout every part of their body from the moment we leave until we return.
I’m not sure I understood what loneliness felt like before my nightmare. It was so real, overwhelming, and gut wrenching. I imagine it was a pretty close representation of how mom felt and how dad is feeling each time we say goodbye to head home to a life like they used to live. I’m not sure there is an answer or cure for elderly loneliness because you can’t replace something they have lost.
We do our best to see dad as often as we can but as I said, it is never enough. Every time I walk out the door I can see myself in that unfamiliar room, crying, wanting to go home to be with my family and watching the door close. My heart aches for dad on the other side of the door knowing he will lie there waiting for the next visit to bring a reprieve from his loneliness until the next visit.
This is not the way any of us imagined it would be like watching our parents grow old. It seems like such a cruel ending for making it this far. I’m hoping someday I’ll close my eyes and be able to find the memories of what they were like ‘before,’ and the little things about them I took for granted. Those memories seem so faded and far away.
In the meantime, our greatest gift we can give our aging parents is our time.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Becky Gacono of Annville, Pennsylvania. She has chronicled her mother’s dementia journey on their Facebook page, Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our best love stories in our free newsletter here.
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