Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Dealing with Denial

Denial comes in many forms.....anyone and everyone can live in some form of denial. I have recently been dealing with several families who have been in deep denial about their elderly family member. I am finding it a challenge to be patient with the denial. I want to cut to the chase! Lets do what needs to be done....but I can't. I have to walk slowly, wait, let them process, let them come to conclusions on their own so it becomes something that they are truly on board with and not just doing what they are told without any real conviction behind their action. They need to be able to be at peace as their family leaves this earth....just as much as the family member.

One son, about my age, has repeatedly told me his mom is fine. She is in Hospice with an invasive form of cancer that is in several of her major organs. She is not fine. She is on pain medications every couple hours, her body is not eliminating toxins so they build up and cause great confusion and forgetfulness for her. She works hard at managing her own affairs but is really unable to manage any longer without help. When I bring this up to him he assures me she is ok. He has noticed some forgetfulness but she is getting older and thats to be expected. I have to tread gently...but time is of the essence. Eventually, after a particularly grueling day for his mom, we have an emotional break through, I sit by and listen as he shares with his mom that he is seeing her need for more care, and how he would like her to stay at home and be cared for there..."but mom, that is what I see through my eyes. I can't see it through your eyes. What would you like?"

Such compassion, such courage as he faces the reality that plays itself out in the little granny apt next door.

Another woman is losing her mom to "old age." "Isn't there anything else we can do?" The mom is an adorable Southern woman who is 90 years old with a great sense of humor. Her body is slowing down, breaking down, hurting, she is so weak these days. I encourage the daughter to bring in Hospice to help her care for her sweet mama. The daughter cries and feels as if she is betraying her mom. "Isn't this telling her there is no hope and we are just waiting for her to die?" I want to say, that "Yes, she is 90. There is no hope. She is not going to get younger, she is not going to get any better. Her body is wearing out. 90 years is a good run!"

Instead I say, "We are allowing your mom to leave this earth on her terms, in comfort (no pain) and with her dignity in tact. Present her options to her and see what feels right to her."

One would think I would have more compassion and patience with those in denial....but I find myself wanting to hurry the process along. Lets get the job done, lets all get on the same page. I have to choose to be loving and kind and not say things like, "WTH are you thinking?"

Denial comes in all forms. The terrified parent who denies their child is using as they nod off on the couch...."they're just tired." The terrified son whose watching his mom waste away....."She's fine!" The terrified daughter whose aged mom is quickly losing her stamina to keep going...."There has to be something else we can do!"

The common denominator here is that we are all afraid to lose something precious to us so we lie to ourselves. We create the picture we want life to be. We frantically grab at whatever illusions of hope we can find or create in our minds. But its like standing on air. It won't support or sustain us. 

Loss is painful. Loss of the lives we expected to have, loss of the hopes and dreams we are forced to relinquish, loss of those we love in all of the forms that that can take... and the only way we can survive it in tact is to look at it, to walk through it, to feel it, to deal honestly with what is happening and what we feel about it all. Not a journey for those who are faint in spirit.

My experience has shown me that living in acceptance of what 'is' will still be painful, but it will be real and solid and something I can deal with and navigate. I still find myself occasionally waffling that line of denial...but its not the comfort it used to be.

Anyway...just stuff I'm thinking about this morning. To be honest, I am frustrated with my own lack of patience and compassion with the people I am encountering who are afraid to let go, who are afraid to face the reality of their potential loss. And I wonder, "Who the hell do I think I am?!"

Annette

10 comments:

Hattie Heaton said...

What a beautiful post. You are so caring. And so honest. How refreshing you are. It is a nice thing to hear truth. It is a terrific example to us that you tell us what you are thinking and show us the compassion of holding it back and understanding that they have not had to face anything this scary yet. You allow them time to find the courage to deal with their situations. You are a beautiful soul Annette.

Summer said...

I can't imagine what it must be like to watch someone you love slowly slipping away. These families are fortunate to have you helping them along in the process of letting go. God bless you and all of our caregivers who are able to do what so many of us could not.

SoberMomWrites said...

Have you ever considered writing a book about this subject? You're so eloquent and you compassion and honesty and caring just jumps off the page and into my heart.

I'm very serious...I wash I had known you when my mom was dying. I think a lot of people could get a lot of comfort from your words. Just sayin'.

Sherrt

Birdie said...

As I am new to your blog I need to ask if you are a Hospice nurse? I work in Home Support mostly doing palliative care for those who choose to die at home. (I do respite care for patients with terminal illness as well.)I love my job. And yes, it is hard at times to allow people to come to terms with loved ones being in the last stages of living. Even when my mom was dying and in palliative care my own brother would not accept that my mom was dying. He kept telling her to drink "greens" and then she would feel better. I tried to gently guide him on the process of how the body slowly shuts down to begin the process of dying but he could not grasp it. In the end I had to just let him find his way. In some way I am grateful for the situation because it taught me so much about the people I care for and their families.

Liz said...

Dear Annette, You wrote "Loss is painful. Loss of the lives we expected to have, loss of the hopes and dreams we are forced to relinquish, loss of those we love in all of the forms that that can take..."
Let me tell you a story... My beautiful, amazing, kind, loving, funny, bright, 22-year old daughter is facing a prison term of 1.5-4 years in NYS Womens prison. My daughter and her very best friend did heroin together last March, and her friend died two days later. Her parents had to remove life-support.
Her friend, asked my daughter to help her and show her how to shoot up... so my daughter did. My child pleaded guilty last month to Criminally Negligent Homicide and will be sentenced on March 25th.

Talk about Loss. My heart just aches and aches. For both girls, for both families, for lost lives and lost dreams.

Since this happened last March, my daughter has been clean and sober. Now, she is facing prison and it just kills me.

Thanks all for listening.

Annette said...

Oh Liz, there are no words. I am just so so sorry for all of you. <3

Dad and Mom said...

Annette,

This post helps. I am dealing with denial from my sister and brother about my mother's dementia. She is 85 and still knows us but believes she still works and drives. She is hunched over and shuffles. It is getting close to where she needs to leave her home to get more care. At this time my sister lives with her and is her caregiver.

I have told my sister she is the one to make the call. She is tired and is suffering her own sickness and was about to ask for help but my brother is in denial.

My brother and I kinda got into it about mom. His perspective is that my sister just needs to get her mind right about taking care of mom. Brother believes if we make mom exercise and do puzzle books she will be OK.

I have to hold my tongue many times. He has guilted my sister into his side. Can't seem to get them to understand that mom isn't going to get better. He argues with mom when she talks about work and driving. As if he can get her to understand she stopped that many years ago.

I am being patient. All I can do is provide opportunities for discovery for my brother and support my sister. As long as mom isn't in physical danger then I am trying to keep my mouth shut. Luckily she isn't a wanderer so I'm not afraid too much of a silver alert but it isn't good for her to sit alone in a house every day while my sister goes to work for 8-10 hours.

I have learned you can't expect everyone to be on the same page all at the same time but there will come a day when I am sure I will have to step up to make things happened despite them. Oh well, I usually find the asshole role pretty well.

Mary Christine said...

God bless you for all that you do. It requires a special soul and you are one!

Syd said...

Annette, just reading this brought back so much for me. You express this beautifully. We did face reality and did learn really quickly that Mom and Pop needed special care. Sad that towards the end they were in separate living arrangements but it could not be helped. I know that we did the best thing for them, but I still wish that they had been together at their home. We did what we could. Thank you for being you--beautiful and compassionate and loving.

Syd said...

Annette, just reading this brought back so much for me. You express this beautifully. We did face reality and did learn really quickly that Mom and Pop needed special care. Sad that towards the end they were in separate living arrangements but it could not be helped. I know that we did the best thing for them, but I still wish that they had been together at their home. We did what we could. Thank you for being you--beautiful and compassionate and loving.