When my dad was told he had dementia, we were beside ourselves. We didn’t know how to ask or what to say, but we knew we had to keep carrying on. Instead of moving him to a nursing home, my mum decided Dad would live at home with her – they’d been married 50 years.
Sadly, my mum died suddenly two months after Dad was told he had dementia. She died in her sleep aged 79, and it was at that point I decided I need to move in with Dad… he had no one else. As an only child it was now my responsibility, like many other people my age, to care for my parent, just like he had done for me. It makes you really think about the cycle of life and how dependent we will become on our own children.
Dad deteriorated much quicker than the doctors had thought. From his diagnosis in 2010, aged 81, weighing 98kg, to early 2012, he was a ghost of himself. Frail and skeletal, it was quite frightening to see him, once a boisterous, happy man, become this hollow skeleton walking slowly around the house.
He was like a big, six-foot child, and after a few months of doing it all myself, I needed help. We got a home care nurse to help out, but even with Stephanie there, I would stand in the doorway, always watching. I felt a sense of hovering, like a helicopter. I never slept as Dad would wake up in the middle of the night moaning. He’d wet the bed every night, it was just a matter of when. I was constantly standing at attention, waiting for him to ask to go to the bathroom, or to be take to the kitchen to his chair.
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I have read stories of people who were conscious of the fact they had dementia, and would float in and out of themselves – that was never the case for Dad. Once he was diagnosed, he was too far gone. I never got my old Dad back, and I also lost myself. Hovering around like the modern day equivalent of a helicopter parent, I realised just how common my situation was.
The baby boomers have become the sandwich generation – some have adult children they’re still taking care of, as well as their elderly parents. It wasn’t planned for, and it takes away some of the best years of our lives. But another observation I had is that even if you do put your mother or father in care, you want to see them and make sure they’re OK – you hear so many horror stories. You want to be that person standing in that doorway, observing, waiting, watching.
Dad died in April 2012 from a stroke. It was sudden, and of course I was there to witness it – one of the most upsetting moments of my life. For a long time I wished my helicopter had been in another room but after all is said and done – I’m glad I was there for Dad, holding his hand in his final minutes.
I wonder how many others have been that hovering presence, and haven’t been able to shake it? Tell me about it in the comments.