My dad’s wife, “Megan,” has been great. It must be an extraordinarily stressful situation, and I am so, so grateful for her. My issue is that whenever I am visiting with them and my dad is out of earshot, she will start making comments about his “bad” moments, and it’s really starting to have a negative affect on my visits with them. For instance, they were staying with me for the weekend, and we all went for a hike. As soon as my dad was trailing behind with my boyfriend and talking about sports or whatever, Megan immediately started telling me how she thought he had forgotten about the visit altogether on the day they came. It’s always right when we are having fun — talking and joking and everything seems okay and almost like it used to be — that she breaks the spell. He will leave the room for whatever reason, and she will then make a point of reminding me how everything is NOT okay. They were here for less than 48 hours this last trip, and she made at least 5-6 comments during that time: about how long it takes to do things, what he’s forgotten recently, how he had trouble hooking up the DVD player, etc.
I assume this is probably some kind of coping mechanism for her, but I’d really like it to stop. For me, it puts a major downer on my visits with my dad. I in no way have my head in the sand about my dad’s condition – I just choose to be positive when I am with him because, really, what else can you do? It’s not going to get better, so I’d rather have as much fun with him as possible when we are together now, because realistically these times are limited.
I obviously want to be kept up-to-date on my dad’s condition, and I am always open and available to talk with her about things on the phone/FB/whatever (they live four hours away). I realize that she lives with it every day, and if she wants to talk, I am here and will set aside time for it. I just want to be able to spend time with her and my dad and not be reminded of his condition at every opportunity.
I don’t know what to do. Just accept that she needs someone to vent to? Say something? I dunno. — Daughter of Dad with Alzheimer’s
If you were my friend and we were having this talk in real life instead of through the internet, I’d throw my arms around you and hug you tight. I’d ask you after every visit you had with your father how it was and how he’s doing. I’d ask you in between visits, too, how his condition was — if he was having a good week or a bad one. And most importantly, I’d ask how you were doing — how you were coping with this scary life change. I’d talk with you about other things, too, of course, but I’d be there to listen about your dad and whatever thing he did or didn’t do that was out of character and gave you pause and reminded you that the man you’ve always loved and known as your father is beginning to fade and no amount of holding on — no matter how strong your grip — is going to keep him here, with you, exactly the way you want him to be.
Hopefully you have support like that in your life, but it’s possible that your stepmother, Megan, doesn’t. It’s also likely that she does have support in her life, but knows that no one can truly understand what it’s like to see glimpses of your father become someone she doesn’t recognize quite like YOU can. And when one is feeling grief, there’s a sense of relief in feeling understood — in knowing that someone is sharing the same loss. So Megan wants you to understand. She wants you to realize the extent of the loss she’s feeling so that you will share in her sadness.
The question becomes then not so much whether you’re willing to share Megan’s sadness when she shares stories with you during your visits with your dad, but whether you’re willing to share her sadness at all. If you are, you can start setting boundaries around when your stories are shared by being proactive in reaching out to Megan on a regular basis. If you’re willing to “set aside” time for her to talk, do it. Don’t wait until you see her and your dad again; instead, call her up and ask how she’s feeling and what kind of week your father has been having. If you don’t want to be bombarded with details about the “bad moments” when you’re trying to enjoy the limited time you have with your dad, make it easier for Megan to unload a little when you aren’t all together. By reaching out to her, you’ll not only strengthen a bond that you yourself may become increasingly dependent on in coming months and years, but you’ll be in a better position to steer the direction of your visits and politely ask Megan to keep discussions about your dad’s condition for when you aren’t trying to enjoy his company.
If you haven’t been quite honest with yourself though, and you aren’t in a position to “be there” for Megan and truly face the reality of your father’s condition through the lens of his wife, it’s time to own up to that. Be honest with yourself and be honest with her. Let her know that you’re working through this at your own pace, and since you have a different relationship with your father than she does, you aren’t processing the same experiences nor coping with your new reality in the same way.
I would, however, urge you start seeing Megan as more than just your dad’s wife. In the battle against Alzheimer’s effect on your family’s life, she’s your main ally. It will behoove you to find a way to fight the battle cohesively, to preserve your father’s legacy and integrity. She’s your partner in this battle. You’ll have more strength together than either of you would independently, so let her rely on you and let her know that you depend on her, too.
Finally, it may help both of you to look into support groups for people affected by Alzheimer’s. You can talk with people outside your family who understand what you’re going through and are further along in the journey and may help prepare you for what’s yet to come.
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