wings and things

The loop of loss and longing

on February 23, 2015

Tonight I came home from my shift at the nursing home (which is now from 3-7pm) feeling terribly sad for one of the residents, B. She had been taken out by her daughter for fish and chips with some of her family but when she and her daughter returned, they were finishing a conversation which must have begun on the drive back and B, referring to her deceased husband, was saying things like, “So R is gone is he? I see … And I can stay here can I?” The grief and confusion in her beautiful face was a stark, mottled blush and her eyes seemed to be looking inward, grappling with the enormity of her bereavement. We – the staff – sat her down and reassured her and her daughter left.

I was already sitting at a table with two other residents, looking at magazines and a bird book, so B made a fourth. She was uncharacteristically quiet and still. I gave her a magazine, a hug and a cup of tea and she eventually said, “It’s hard when you lose someone and you’re all alone.” I squeezed her hand and said, “I know how it feels a bit, B, because my husband is in a nursing home.” With that she looked at me with eyes full of empathy and she enclosed my hand in both of hers. “I’m so sorry darling, that must be terrible for you.” Her sympathy amazed me since she had just heard about her husband’s death for the first time (of course it is not the first time in reality) and she seemed to be in a bit of shock.

But, less than 15 minutes later, as B finished her cup of tea, she asked the same questions she asks over and over and over again, “Do you know where is R? I need to be getting home. Can you give me a ride? He’ll be getting worried won’t he?”

Most staff go with the flow and reassure B that R will be here soon, or that he said it’s okay for her to stay here for the night. It is sometimes very hard to know what to do to comfort B because she is constantly on the move, ready to go home. She is mobile, articulate and always immaculate, but so terribly confused and anxious. A couple of the staff will gently remind B that her husband isn’t here anymore and she will be shocked and grief-stricken but within minutes will have forgotten this and will begin again to ask where R is.

I wish I could figure out how better to comfort this woman who constantly asks for her deceased husband; it’s as if she is stuck in a never-ending memory loop of loss and of longing.

65 responses to “The loop of loss and longing

  1. This is just one of many reasons memory loss is such a cruel.condition.

  2. How terrible! I know it happens, but it is sad every time you hear another story like this. I don’t think we’ve really figured out anything about the best way to deal with dementia. When I was a nurse’s assistant I remember a sweet old lady with dementia and she would get so distraught and lost, she would sit and cry wondering what happened and how she got there. Heartbreaking. I’m sure she was comforted by your words and kind presence.

  3. It must be so very difficult not only for her, but for those who you struggle to know what to say and feel the sadness she feels… Diane

  4. A wicked beast of a disease. For some it is easy to “redirect” and get them focused on something else. But for those like “B” it is horrible when they become fixated on asking the one thing that no matter how often you redirect them away from, their heart returns to it over and over again because their memory has kept them trapped in a warped place of not being able to remember, or forget. My heart goes out to her, and to all of you who hurt with her every day.

  5. artfulanxiety says:

    Wow… to relive that over and over again must be so hard, but I suppose she forgets so easily too. Perhaps harder on the staff? Heartbreaking.

  6. Terry says:

    Unfortunately that is the Alzheimers speaking through the repeated words. I wish we could fix it, but as yet, there is no cure. I know how frustrating it is to repeat over and over to these patients. It can tire you quick

  7. I remember my grandmother being like that. She went back to the days before she lost one of her daughters (my mothers sister) which had happened 33 years before)..

  8. Ann Koplow says:

    Julie, I am always so grateful that B and others have you in their lives. I know you want to figure out how to do things better, but you probably don’t realize how much you already give. Thanks for being you.

  9. It must be very hard – but you, and your co-workers, are doing such a marvellous job.

  10. susanpoozan says:

    Poor, poor woman, to be like that is one’s worst nightmare, very hard on the staff too I should think.

  11. mimijk says:

    I think you are comforting her in the way that is most meaningful to her – in the moment. You are a jewel in this world my friend – you sparle like no one else I have ever ‘met’ – in any circumstance..

  12. Vicki says:

    So sad.
    And I can only imagine how difficult it is for the nursing staff to figure out which reply to give in any one moment (on any given day).
    Does it help to say R is in the “???” room and will join her later?
    Or is that even more confusing?

  13. So sad. I wish there was a cure for this. It robs life before the body gives up.

  14. Oh Jules, what a blessing you and the other carers are to B and the others. My hubs is now entering the 3rd stage of Alz and I must admit I am not a patient person which makes it difficult for us both. I am at a loss as to what to say most times when he “forgets” the most common everyday tasks. I see a home in the near future but selfishly don’t want to let him go. Ah well point of this ramble is that you are such a good person and doing what is in your heart to do and Ants and others are blessed to have you πŸ™‚

  15. Amy says:

    You did a beautiful job of putting into words how it must feel from each person’s perspective. I can feel the compassion in your writing, and in the end that is the best gift we can give to one another.

  16. Oh man, that’s a tough one. I wish I could think of something to tell you that would work. I suppose the best one can do is offering time and comfort moment to moment. So sad.

  17. Oh Julie, that would be so hard. Maybe, in a way, it’s harder on staff because you remember having these conversations over and over and watching B grieve over and over. B, thankfully, does not remember being pained over and over, just the one time, in the moment.

    I wonder though, how this affects the physical. I know when I get bad news, it affects me physically. Even though folks like B don’t remember the last time she grieved her husband, it must affect her physically each time she learns of his passing?

    Julie, I’m so grateful for people like you and the other staff who care for the B’s in the world. ❀
    Diana xo

  18. ksbeth says:

    that’s really hard –

  19. You are a gift to each person you meet! β™₯ Bless you!

  20. as if losing your husband once was not enough!

  21. lensgirl53 says:

    So sad for all involved, especially for your patient, her loss is fresh all over again. You are doing all you can do. God will give you strength. xo

  22. janeslog says:

    It’s very sad for these people who are suffering in this way.

      • janeslog says:

        My neighbour has a few dogs and she is training the young Spaniel to become a companion dog for the elderly in a local hospital. Although it is called a hospital it is more like a nursing home funded by the NHS.

        Do you not have something like that in Australia?

        She says the elderly residents love the wee dog and are cheered up by the wee thing.

  23. How sad to have to relive the grieving moment over and over. 😦

  24. Lynda says:

    Julie, I’m so glad you’re there for her, and the others. Yes, it is hard for her, but at least she hears the news with love behind it. Your work is such a blessing for them.

    • jmgoyder says:

      The set-up in the dementia house is so good, very layback and relaxing for the most part – a good place for the very anxious like B and I guess me too!

  25. Luanne says:

    Truly, what a horrific loop. And what good work you are doing.

  26. Trisha says:

    It must be so horrible for her to hear this devastating news again and again. And horrible for everyone that has to tell her again and again. Dementia is such a terrible condition.

    • jmgoyder says:

      Mostly we pretend he is going to come and get her later and this works for awhile, but sometimes it is necessary to tell her the truth – such a dilemma.

  27. ingridrick says:

    I don’t understand why people tell dementia patients terrible news when it is only going to distress them and then not remember anyway. Why do that? Isn’t it better to reassure the person and keep them relaxed and not stressed in their world.

  28. My dad died shortly after my college graduation. Thirty-plus years later, thru her dementia, my mom became convinced he was alive but not calling her. He was unfaithful. (I wrote about this in posts called “Themes and Variations, Parts One and Two)). At first I tried to remind her of his death; she was having no part of it. I finally stopped contradicting her, and though painful, even agreed with her premise (aren’t you sad daddy hasn’t called? Yes, I’m sad mama). After a year of visiting this topic over and over and over (the loop), she never mentioned him again. And I tried never to refer to my dad in any context, lest I trigger a recurrence. I never figured out the “right” way to handle this; it is difficult to watch someone in torment, particularly over something that is not true! But the best I could do was to agree with her and change the topic.

    But also, since there were often huge kernels of truth in my mother’s (demented) observations, I came to believe that she was working thru a form of reality and maybe it was not my role to contradict her or even try to make things better. There is so much about the mind (and her actual experience vs my understanding of her experience) that we so not know. And so I came to believe that even in the horrific world of dementia, things happened for a reason. But yes, it is excruciating to witness and my heart goes out for you. All my best, Hallie

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