There are few things in life that compare to the suffering of those left behind by their elders who lived long lives and suffered long deaths. It is insensitive, I know, to think of the suffering on the part of the survivors when there was clearly so much more suffering on the part of those that have passed.
But, too often, the way in which we impart (often misguidedly) sympathy and pity to those who pass on, more than to those who must carry on in the wake of their passing, is non-helpful and leaves many invisible and, therefore, untended wounds that never fully heal.
It is not enough that the death of a loved one who suffered for years with a long and debilitating illness provides some modicum of closure; the pain and anguish and years of often-stifled sobs of the survivors echo throughout the rest of their lives. Worse, and far too often, they never fully recover from their self-imposed recriminations and second-guesses and misplaced guilt over what they might have or could have or should have done differently… in the clouds and the haze of the eventual death they convince themselves they could have prevented somehow… “if only” they had acted differently.
Personally, I have lived with and cared for my own aging Mother for three years now. I have become wise enough, during this stretch of my life, to understand that there are just simply some things that we will never fully understand or completely grasp about our brains and our bodies and how they interact… and what life becomes as their communication with each other breaks down. And even as a 24 hour a day, seven day a week caregiver and direct observer of these things, I still – after all this time – struggle with separating out the person from the disease.
I came across an article written by John Davis, titled “Dementia: A Personal Reflection”, in which he discusses his own observations and experiences with dementia. I highly recommend this to anyone who is dealing with a parent or loved one that suffers from this disease. It’s a testament to Davis, and to any of us that has to deal with a person that has dementia, that he speaks so softly about such a hard issue:
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