Tag Archives: dementia

I’ll Be Home For Christmas, If Only In My Dreams

Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness since 2012       repost from (c)2014  Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministries

photo-24791672-christmas-poster-with-winter-houses-vector

We played pretend, my daddy and I. He said he imagined he could come through the wall behind the clock. A secret staircase took him back there, and then, crash! With a powerful kick, the clock and a picture fell into a dusty haze of broken dry wall. Out he jumped, landing on both feet.

He laughed. “I don’t know why I imagined that,” he said.

I added an old train to our game. It chugged from nowhere to the room where we played and waited. “Anytime you want you can ride away,” I said.

“What should I do with the rails? he said.

“Keep them in one of the train cars so if you need them they will be handily available.”

“You don’t think like other people,” he said with a grin.

He asked me how my day had gone, and insisted details be piled on to complicate a simple story. His gaze never wavered as he asked follow-up questions, truly interested in my life.

Neither of us were young in this scenario. The atmosphere I grew up in had been hostile; the adults were distracted. Little Nancy had not experienced playing make-believe with her daddy. No, this happened only two weeks ago* in the nursing facility where my father resides due to dementia. During this visit, his mind was clear and able to maintain a stream of thought for an entire hour without forgetting anything. Surprised, I was doubly intrigued to find him playful and so excited to see me.

Our relationship has not included much joy. I always wanted one of those imaginary Christmas card daddies whose focused adoration is on their little girls while everyone smiles for the picture. Instead, I learned a sense of home and family could exist only in the dreamy make-believe world of denial.

So why was my dad relaxed, funny, and laughing at my jokes? Uncertain when the golden coach would return to pumpkin-state, I hesitated to join the jovial spirit.  However, something puzzling had caught my attention and I wanted it to continue.

His eyes were sparkling for sheer joy of having me around. When a nurse first woke him and guided him to look my way, he had lit up like -you know it – a Christmas tree.

So far into our conversation there had been no distractions, no digressions into how is so-n-so and what-not. He asked about my work, and in typical cryptic fashion I told him of my coming weekend trip to Chicago. He wanted to know what I would be doing in the Windy City.

Now I had a quandary. These kinds of questions were highly unusual. One option was to remain hidden behind my normal self-protective barricade. At any given moment this pleasantry could end, spoiled by his disappointment in me. Was it safe to expose the whole truth to my father?

Yet those eyes. They were eager, inquisitive, and soft.  I looked at this man who had been so unreachable, who had failed to know or appreciate his daughter, and who had made such harsh parenting mistakes in the past. “I’m fine, Dad” had been a standard response if ever he did ask; vulnerability was dangerous.

Nonetheless, shiny eyes were new. I searched them for clues; maybe this was not a moment to carelessly throw away. After deliberating long enough for silence to be awkward, with a deep breath I tossed hesitation aside and risked my heart.

He learned I speak about depression and suicide.

Why?

Because I’m in recovery from those, Dad. 

He learned my marriage ended this year.

Oh! What happened?

It’s been unhappy…

He learned of my estranged son.

How are you?

I miss him, Dad.

He heard of friends, a new church, and asked how I spend my time. We moved on to my newest book soon to be released. I described it while in a shadow of doubt as to the wisdom of laying my joy at his feet.

Sounds like a good book. You keep writing, that’s what you do so well.

Thanks, Dad.

Gathering my coat, I looked in wonder at his baby-blues once more. After saying goodbyes and see you soon, his eyes still sparkled with affection and delight. I gave mine permission to twinkle back. Maybe it took fifty-three years, but my daddy saw me and liked what he saw.

This was not a dream; I felt at home.

Today’s Helpful Word

2 Corinthians 1:3

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.”

 

*This was first posted two years ago. My father has since passed away.)

COMMENTS ARE ALWAYS WELCOME 

NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.

Home Sweet Home

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness  (c)2015 Nancy Virden

“I’ve been kidnapped and they won’t let me go home!”

“Where photo-24758449-illustrated-image-of-question-mark-sign.are you?”

“I’ve been to Freeburg and Kenton, and now I’m back in Marysville.. They took me on a long ride and I don’t know, I don’t know – they won’t let me go home!”

I wanted to call the police or for an ambulance. Who could solve this confusing mystery? Any magical doctors on call? The voice was my dad’s. He’d been taken from his room in the nursing home to the hospital because he contracted pneumonia. His actual ride had been five minutes, the only place he’d been was next door.

He’s so certain his delusions are real, I wish I could send superheroes to whisk him away from this torturous mental prison of dementia’s making. I know he is homesick; there is no home waiting for his return.

There’s another kind of mental beating.  We may wonder how old pain can be returning or that memory popping up. What was once thought placed in the past is rising to ruin the present again.  It’s an ugly déjà vu. It’s shame on a pin wheel. 

It’s as if some powers carry us helplessly into a familiar abyss of self-blame and loathing. We don’t want to be there, we want to go home, to the day before all this happened. Our imaginations paint “good ‘ol days”‘ where there were none. It’s a mental trap of one’s own making.

Both my dad and I want to go to make-believe histories of happiness and mental health. My dad has nothing he can do to improve his situation; it seems this is the road on which he will stay. I however, can return home. 

A recent betrayal of lies and rumor by a friend has unsettled what little was still holding me to Pennsylvania. With my divorce looming, moving back to my home state of Ohio to start over seems best.

Four and a half years ago, I wanted to “go home”,  which meant heaven above. On earth however, I want love from humans, fulfilling work, great relationships with family, and enough money to get by. Ideally, people who care and do not abuse will surround me. My desire is to grow so close to Jesus that I never feel alone or hopeless again.

Going home is not thephoto-24775881-open-hands-with-key ultimate answer for either my dad or me. Peace in our thoughts is what we need most.

Focus is up to me. In the face of pain, remembering what is good and lovely and true, brings relief. I have to admit though, it’s easier when you’ve got a friend in your corner.

Here’s to a hopeful break from the past.

*********

NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

-pictures from Qualitystockphotos.com

 

 

I’ll Be Home for Christmas If Only in My Dreams

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness  (c)2014 Nancy Virden

photo-24791672-christmas-poster-with-winter-houses-vector

We played pretend, my daddy and I.

He said he imagined he could come through the wall behind the clock. A secret staircase took him back there, and then, crash! With a powerful kick, the clock and a picture fell into a dusty haze of broken dry wall. Out he jumped, landing on both feet.

He laughed. “I don’t know why I imagined that,” he said.

I added an old train to our game. It chugged from nowhere to the room where we played and waited. “Anytime you want you can ride away,” I said.

“What should I do with the rails? he said.

“Keep them in one of the train cars so if you need them they will be available.”

“You don’t think like other people,” he said with a grin.

He asked me how my day had gone, and insisted details be piled on to complicate a simple story. His gaze never wavered as he asked follow-up questions, truly interested in my life.

Neither of us were young in this scenario. The atmosphere I grew up in had been hostile; the adults were distracted. Little Nancy had not experienced playing make-believe with her daddy. No, this happened only two weeks ago in the nursing facility where my father resides due to dementia.

During this visit, his mind was clear and able to maintain a stream of thought for an entire hour without forgetting anything. Surprised, I was doubly intrigued to find him playful and so excited to see me.

Our relationship has not included much joy. I always wanted one of those imaginary Christmas card daddies whose focused adoration is on their little girls while everyone smiles for the picture. Instead, I learned a sense of home and family could exist only in the dreamy make-believe world of denial.

So why was my dad relaxed, funny, and laughing at my jokes? Uncertain when the golden coach would return to pumpkin-state, I hesitated to join the jovial spirit.  However, something puzzling had caught my attention and I wanted it to continue.

His eyes were sparkling for sheer joy of having me around. When a nurse first woke him and guided him to look my way, he had lit up like – you know it – a Christmas tree.

So far into our conversation there had been no distractions, no digressions into how is so-n-so and what-not. He asked about my work, and in typical cryptic fashion I told him of my coming weekend trip to Chicago. He wanted to know what I would be doing in the Windy City.

Now I had a quandary. These kinds of questions were highly unusual. One option was to remain hidden behind my normal self-protective barricade. At any given moment this pleasantry could end, spoiled by his disappointment in me. Was it safe to expose the whole truth to my father?

Yet those eyes. They were eager, inquisitive, and soft.  I looked at this man who had been so unreachable, who had failed to know or appreciate his daughter, and who had made such harsh parenting mistakes in the past. “I’m fine, Dad” had been a standard response if ever he did ask because vulnerability was dangerous.

Nonetheless, shiny eyes were new. I searched them for clues. Maybe this was not a moment to carelessly throw away. After deliberating long enough for silence to become awkward, with a deep breath I tossed hesitation aside and risked my heart.

He learned I speak about depression and suicide.

Why?

Because I’m in recovery from those, Dad. 

He learned my marriage ended this year.

Oh! What happened?

It’s been unhappy…

He learned of my estranged son.

How are you?

I miss him, Dad.

He heard of friends, a new church, and asked how I spend my time. We moved on to my newest book soon to be released. I described it while in a shadow of doubt as to the wisdom of laying my joy at his feet.

Sounds like a good book. You keep writing, that’s what you do so well.

Thanks, Dad.

Gathering my coat, I looked in wonder at his baby-blues once more. After saying goodbye and see you soon, his eyes still sparkled with affection and delight. I gave mine permission to twinkle back. Maybe it took fifty-three years, but my daddy saw me and liked what he saw.

This was not a dream; I felt at home.

*****

NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.

*picture from qualitystockphotos.com

 

Saying Goodbye Brings New Perspective (relationships)

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness    (c)2014 Nancy Virden

photo-25318978-printI called my dad today. He is in a nursing home and dealing with dementia. In his four years of living there I’ve seen changes in his demeanor, physical capabilities, and memory.

Today he told me he is working on getting “up and walking” so he can leave the facility. Sadly, I know he’s not leaving that place. His body cannot mend anymore, and his mind is slipping away.

One year. We never know on New Year’s Day what our reality will be like by the next January 1. In some ways we may want nothing to change, or perhaps we hope with all our heart everything will look and feel different in twelve months. How has 2014 been for you so far?

Among several people who play significant roles in my life, the past ten months have included heart-wrenching events.  These include physical deaths, the loss of a child by miscarriage, disbanded loyalties, and an attempted suicide. I too have experienced painful severing of key relationships this year.

Goodbyes might be slow, tragic, sudden, or inexplicable. In the case of an adult child watching their parent slip away, a vulnerability arises. My longing for a dad who will take care of me is not realistic. There is no more hope for that. Today he forgot I was on the phone and stopped talking to me. Last week, my dad didn’t remember I moved eight hours away a few years ago. I don’t want him to wonder why I don’t come around each day.

Anything the past holds between us has faded into the cloud of compassion I feel for him now. What is positive is that dementia has softened him somewhat.  When he heard I’m writing he said, “Good. That’s what you should be doing. You’re good at that.”

My choice is to spend time wishing I’d seen that side of him earlier, or to thank God for the gift. I choose the latter. There is simply no more time for counting a closet full of dead bones.

Saying goodbye. At the new year, I was one who hoped change would occur in 2014.  I suspected there might be a critical parting or two. What has surprised me is that finally saying goodbye to old hurts and resentments has been such a joyful experience. “Let it go” now makes sense. It means today matters, and I can embrace this moment.

I’m saying goodbye to my dad. Today he’s still here, he is proud of me, and I’m glad.  That’s all that counts anymore.

******

NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

 

 

 

 

When a Loved One is Diminishing

Compassionate Love:Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness  (c)2014 Nancy Virden

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On the phone:

Hey, Dad?

Yeah?

I’ll be there on Thursday to see you.

This Thursday? Ok.

***

Hey dad?

Yeah?

I’ll see you at about 5:00.

You’re coming?

Yes, at 5:00.

You’re coming today? Oh, alright.

***

In person:

Hi dad!

Hey daughter! I didn’t know you were coming.

***

It’s painful to watch someone who used to be so capable lose their abilities to function. Mixed emotions circle between our heads and hearts until we do not know what is any longer right or necessary. Do we wish or pray their suffering will end soon? How kind are phone calls when it frustrates them they no longer remember our names? Is one more surgery on a body with a lessening mind an ordeal worth undertaking?

I do not have those answers but would like to. With only one aunt I barely know involved in my dad’s care, end of life decisions will fall to me. My goal is to choose what I know he has said he wants.

Life is sacred. For those of us who struggle with Major Depression that statement may be questionable. Why? Because in despair we tend to see only our pain. This is my experience and that of several people I know.

My son Tim once said to me, “No matter what, no price is too high to pay to help someone change.” He was referring to situations where we may be incapacitated but in some way our purpose for living is not done. Our life is still in God’s hands and his purpose for us has not diminished.  We may never know why our continued existence matters.

“In his time,” a psychologist said to me when I talked about going home to heaven while suicidal thoughts filled my brain.

Indeed, in God’s time. Our mental illnesses and physical limitations do not have the power to interrupt his plan for us in this world. This can be difficult to understand.

I choose to be changed by the last years of my dad’s life. He may not know, or remember. Nevertheless, in the end I will be a better person, stronger to practice humility, and more patient. My life may become more an expression of compassionate love for the weak and marginalized.

***********

NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline   1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.