NOTICE – On May 1, I wrote about humor, which is one of the coping skills listed in Dr. Natalie Edmond’s CareBlazer Survival Guide. I finished the article by saying that next week, I would write about another coping skill. If you are a faithful reader you know, that never happened. Instead, on May 8 I wrote about Wonderful Ambiguity, and the week after that, Hopeful Ambiguity, followed by, Out of Moria, (Which was out of place because it was a fill-in for Harriet’s Friday blog.) and finally, The Examined Life. First, I want to apologize for bouncing all over like I do. I got so excited about the book, Loving Someone with Dementia, by Dr. Pauline Boss, that my plan was thrown to the wind and I took off like a beagle after a rabbit. Second, I said, “No one really cares about what I write.” and Harriet answered,” What if someone was looking forward to the series on coping skills? Just in case, you should apologize and explain yourself.” Therefore, I do apologize and here is part two of Coping Skills – Think Matter of Fact & Think honestly.
I used to know an elderly woman in Miami, Florida, who, when trouble would come her way would say, “Well, so be it,” Then there was the Parole Officer, in Owosso, Michigan, who, no matter what happened would say, “It is what it is.” Both people had one thing in common, whatever happened they would accept it and move on. Neither one would complain, whine, cry, bitch, or moan, about anything. They would look trouble in the eye and do what needed to be done. I knew Aline for around fifteen years, until her death in 1999, and in all that time, I never knew her to worry about anything. She would say, “Why do you want to borrow trouble from tomorrow? The good Lord gives me all the help I need for today.”
The other thing both of my friends had in common was they always faced, and spoke, the truth about a situation. They didn’t sugar coat it or exaggerate anything. I called both of them straight shooters. These two coping skills go hand in hand because some people try to cope by minimizing or dismissing trouble, while others are easily offended and are always upset and angry about something. Neither of these are good, long term, coping skills, because they will only make you more unhappy.
Dr. Natalie teaches us that how we think about a situation will determine how we respond to it. This is why she teaches us to think in a matter a fact, it is what it is, manner. She gives us an example of “Yup, here it is. I knew it was coming and I know that it is a part of the disease.” This is important because, we all know that, there are some terrible things coming our way. Let me give you an example, the day will come when Harriet will no longer want to take a shower or take care of herself. I have known her for fifty years and she always dresses well and looks beautiful. When the day comes that she fights me about taking a shower, or washing her hair, I could say, “What a slob, I can not stand being married to someone who doesn’t care enough about me to try to look attractive.” If I take this tact, I will be setting myself up for frustrating and angry days. However, I could think, “Harriet used to care so much about taking good care of herself. How sad, that Dementia has robbed her of this part of personal pride.” If I think the first way, I will feel rejected and angry, whereas the second way of thinking will cause me to be compassionate towards my wife.
Somethings are so nasty that there’s no way around it. For example, a time might come when Harriet cannot remember how to use the bathroom. I’ve heard about caretakers who get to change diapers on a regular basis. Even worse, some people with dementia, not only don’t know how to use the bathroom, but they go in there and smear feces everywhere. Guess who gets to clean up the mess?
At times like that you might as well voice the truth, “I HATE this disease!! I hate what it is doing to my loved one.” Dr. Natalie’s example is, “I am so sick of this Sh*t, but no matter how hard the days, I will get through this.” You really can speak the truth without descending into complaining, whining, or anger.
We should attempt to follow Dr. Natalie’s example and say, “I’m so sick of this SH*t, but no matter how hard the days are, I will get through this.” because, Dr. Natalie is teaching us to speak the truth but never lose sight of the hope. ‘I’m sick of this!” are truthful words. “But I will get through this” are hopeful, empowering words.
If she had said, “I’m so sick of this Sh*t, I can’t take anymore of this! Who has to wipe their husband’s ass and change sh*tty diapers? ADULT DIAPERS!! I feel like this whole thing will be the death of me.” Can you see how the second example went from truth to anger to despair?
By thinking matter of fact, “incontinence is a terrible part of this disease. Poor Betty would be mortified if she knew it had come to this.” Having looked at your loved one’s latest loss in a matter of fact way, you’re empowered to compassionately speak the truth. “I’m so sick of this sh*t, but no matter how hard the days, I will get through this. “
By looking at everything in a matter of fact way and speaking the truth there will be less chance of sliding into despair. Being overcome with despair is like falling out of a boat with an anchor tied to your foot. Hope is like falling out of a boat with a life vest, we might go under, but the live vest will bring us right back up. No matter how many times we go under, the life vest will bring us back to the surface. Please, untie the anchor of negativity, anger and despair and put on the life vest of factual truth.
Please continue to pray for us and be assured that we pray for you on a daily basis.