‘How Can I Help if I Don’t Know You’re Hurting?’

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As a caregiver of a parent with Alzheimer’s dementia, I struggle with myself when I find out my father has been hurting and won’t tell me about it.  My husband and I are caregivers for my father who will be turning 80 next year.  Whenever we’re with him, we focus on the positive and talk about the memories he recounts, even those that were from before I was born.

Most recently after seeing a significant weight loss in my father, I noticed he was chewing his food differently.  I didn’t say anything but knew he didn’t want to go back to the dentist after his last visit two years ago.  I encouraged him to get a cleaning and check-up. And knew my father was anxious, but he relented.  I asked him if there was anything bothering him so I could let the dentist know when I made the appointment.  He said he thought he had a loose filling.

Finally, he said there was something bothering him.  After his first dental x-rays in two years, the truth finally presented itself through the exam by the hygienist and on the monitor showing his teeth. It wasn’t a loose filling, but rather a tooth that had disconnected from the jaw bone and was only supported by a bridge to other teeth.  After the deep cleaning and exam by the dentist, the dental work path became clearer.  Four molars in different locations of each the jaw needed to be extracted.  I asked him why he didn’t tell me he was having problems chewing and he said “I just didn’t think about it”.  I jokingly said you might not want to tell your dentist that you’re not thinking about your teeth.  But inside, I almost cried when I found out he had felt that “loose filling” for almost a year.  Yet my father never complained.  He never said any word!

In fact, my father told me he wanted me to “turn down my worry a few notches” after I voiced concern for his well-being.  After that, like I said earlier, we focused on the present and the positive.  My husband and I spend our time listening to stories of my father’s military career, his friends from years past, years working on his family farm and his early relationship with my mother and my three sisters.

As his caregiver, I respect my father’s wishes and truly try not to push, but this today’s dental visit hurts my heart.  I told my father it made me sad to think how long he was going though such discomfort and again, he said, “Don’t press me on these things.” Really?

All I can think tonight is, “How can I help you, if you don’t tell me you’re hurting?”

As our parents age, they don’t want to be a bother to their caregivers, or they may feel like they’ll “just deal” with their discomfort and keep it to themselves.  How can we help, if we don’t know he’s hurting?  I know my father has recently changed his “do not resuscitate (DNR)” orders to a “No DNR” and probably looks at his life differently than I do.

I’ll honor my father’s wishes and try to keep my worry to myself or share it with my husband.   I know he’s lonely and I can’t change how he’s feeling, but I just hope father knows how much we love him and that we’re blessed he chose to live near us and share our lives with him.

Carla Vagnini

More Articles Written by Carla

I live outside Washington, DC with my husband Paul and two cats. I have been in public service for almost half of my life. I treasure spending time with my husband, family (both near and far) and two cats. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and share this belief with my loved ones...that every day is a gift, never go to bed angry with the ones you love and life is just too short. After helping family members through the devastating loss of their loved ones, I took the time write this short book. While dealing with the shock and devastation of death after an unexpected passing or a lingering cruel illness, my husband and I learned valuable information and insights with each experience that I wanted to sharing with others. I found that the help and support provided after the funeral, when all of the family and friends had returned to their homes, was equally as critical as the support provided both during the illnesses and at the funeral. I learned that no matter how much time you might have to “prepare”, there are just too many issues to address and calls to make. All of which are far too many for the grieving loved one to manage on their own. I hopes that when you are faced with providing support to a loved one who has sadly experienced their own devastating loss that the information in my book serves as a guide to help you weather the storm with a little more ease and comfort.

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