How do you say ‘goodbye’ to a loved one with Alzheimer’s? I’m not talking about the final goodbye at this moment, but the daily goodbyes when you have to leave your loved one.
I usually spend a few hours with my mom each day. She really doesn’t like to see me leave and, much like it may have been when I was a toddler and she left me with a babysitter, she can get a bit sulky and fussy. I’m discovering there is an art to making those daily goodbyes a little less stressful.
The number one thing I have learned is never say, “I have to go home now.” Saying the word “home” is an involuntary trigger for her to feel unsettled, as she constantly wants to “go home” too.
I have discovered that it’s really important to give her a reassuring hug and tell her that I love her, but sometimes that’s not enough. Here are a few other tactics which help make daily goodbyes less stressful for my mom:
- I don’t mention how long I’m going to be gone. Instead of “I’ll see you tomorrow,” I say, “I’ll see you a little later.” Even if I’m going to be gone for a few days, it’s really important to offer her the hope that I will be back soon.
- If she asks where I’m going, I sometimes say, “I’m going to work, but I’ll be back later.” While I don’t really go to a job, I am not straying far from the truth because I really DO need to go home and get some laundry and housework done.
- If at all possible, I try to leave when she is resting comfortably in her bed. She may look for her family when she wakes up, but she will be looking for me expectantly, rather than feeling like I have abandoned her.
- Momma’s comfort item is her dolly. I try to make sure she has it in her lap and is occupied with “Dolly” when I slip away.
- Snacks help. I sometimes leave a cookie on mom’s windowsill. Even if she sees me walking to my car (her window faces the parking lot), the next thing she will see is her special treat and then all is well.
- Loving and gentle touches help her relax. You know how it feels when someone plays with your hair, or runs a brush through it? It’s an amazing feeling. I try to be there when mom finishes her twice weekly shower, as she is usually not a particularly willing participant in that activity. The minute she sees me after she is wheeled out of the shower room, she looks SO relieved. I take those post-shower moments to blow-dry her hair and gently brush it.