Dad Has Dementia

Week 15: Big Girls Do Cry

Last updated:

April 23, 2010

There are so many times "“ and so many reasons "“ I feel like crying.

Today has been rough. Dad has been in severe pain all day, and there's nothing I can do about it. So, reason number one why I often feel like crying: Helplessness.

As a nurse, I understand a lot about the physiology and etiology of pain. Dad has had many surgeries, which have generated a tremendous amount of scar tissue, particularly along his lower spine. Scar tissue has twisted his body into a Quasimodo-like shape. This causes him a lot of pain. Furthermore, he has spinal stenosis in his neck, osteoarthritis in his joints, and a pair of prosthetic knees. All of these things combine to keep him in constant pain.

We do what we can to mitigate this. Medications help some. We have begun therapeutic massage therapy. So far, Dad feels the massage is helping.

But he still struggles with chronic pain. I want to wave a magic wand and take it all away, and I know I can't. It's a bad feeling.

Reason number two why I often feel like crying? Guilt.

Earlier this week, I was struggling with feelings of impatience. While I was outside watering the flowers, for example, I discovered Dad had the screen door braced wide open as he struggled to get a patio chair outside. We don't prop the outside door open because we don't like our cats to get outside, so I scrambled to help Dad get the patio chair outside and the door closed. I felt irritated and scolded Dad, saying, "Let me do that for you! Don't let the cats out!"

Later that evening, I was helping Dad assemble his Mentadent toothpaste contraption, and he snatched it away from me and pushed down hard on it.. "Don't do that," I cried. But before I could finish my thought, a huge gob of toothpaste streamed onto the countertop. "I'm sorry," Dad said, hanging his head. "I can't do anything without screwing it up."

I have never felt smaller in my life.

And reason number three why I often feel like crying? Plain sadness.

On Monday, Dad noticed a family portrait in the living room. "Can I see that?" he asked.

I brought the photo to him, and he gazed at it for quite some time. Finally, he pointed at a gentleman and asked, "Is that me?"

"Yes, it is, Dad," I replied.

"How strange," he said. "I can't even recognize myself."

I took a deep breath and was reminded of something my friend Mitzi once told me: Sometimes you just have to put on your big girl panties to get through the crisis and then have your breakdown later.

I had my breakdown later that night, as I lay in bed. I allowed the tears to wash over me like breakers on a beach. The next day, I would again put on my big girl panties. But that night, I just needed to cry.