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Transition #2: From Go-It-Alone to Asking for Help

In big ways and small, Joan had learned that the only person she could ever truly rely on was herself.

family caregiverIt was a lesson first taught to her by her mother as a young girl and it was deeply rooted in distrust – not only in people but also in life and what it brings.

At the age of 12, Joan’s father left her and her mother and never returned; they were each devastated and very much on their own.

The pattern would repeat itself 14 years later when Joan was 26.  Her husband at the time, a man she’d known and loved since childhood left her too.  Only he didn’t walk out.  Shortly after kissing Joan and their son goodbye on his way to work one morning, he suffered a brain hemorrhage and died shortly thereafter.

“My husband dying like that marked the second great loss of my life,” Joan shared with me one afternoon over glasses of her signature lemonade.
“Losing my father was the first and now I’m in the midst of the third.”

The “third” she was referring to was Joe, her second husband, who had been diagnosed with dementia and seemed to be advancing rapidly at the age of 77.

Joe was the “gentle giant.” The man she’d taken a chance on despite her fear that he would leave her as her father and first husband had.  The very one she’d learned had been unfaithful to her for years.  Still, she welcomed him back home when she learned that he needed her.

But she couldn’t go it alone.

Joe’s dementia was a formidable opponent and there was no telling how long the match would last.


This woman whose self-sufficiency had been nurtured by two tragedies and a hard life as a single mother would have to acknowledge when she needed help and ask for it.  And the help would have to come from strangers, not the family members she’d reluctantly relied on to help her raise her son.  They were gone too.

It wouldn’t be easy.  In fact it would be uncomfortable, almost unnatural for her.

“I’m here,” I’d tell her during my regular check-in call.  “I’ll plan to call you once a week, but you can call me anytime.  And if you’re ever not sure how to handle something that happens with Joe, let me know and we’ll think it through together.”

This was the message I was painstakingly consistent with.  I knew I’d have to be so that it would take root.

And finally, it did.

It was a Tuesday afternoon when Joan called me to say that Joe was putting on multiple pairs of pants, one over the other and urinating in them.  This had been going on for days and she was exhausted from all the laundry and all the worry.

“What do I do?” she said.

Together we strategized and the plan we came up with stopped the behavior.

There would be many more calls like this, but this first one marked a major transition in Joan’s thinking that wasn’t lost on either of us.  She’d decided that it was time to ask for help and she’d trusted me to provide it to her.

The dementia had required Joan to transition to a new way of tackling problems and she was slowly adapting.

It would require much more before the end.

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*All identifying information has been changed to protect the client.

Transition #3: From Private Person to 7-Eleven Manager will post on Wednesday, August 11th. Don’t miss it! Subscribe to my feed by clicking here.

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