Dad Has Dementia

Week 5: Go Ahead -- Laugh

Last updated:

February 15, 2010

It had been a bad day.

Dad had been depressed, tired, and needy since he woke up. Lee discovered the car had a flat tire. I accidentally threw one of my favorite sweaters in the dryer and shrank it small enough to fit a Barbie doll. We were all relieved when dinner was finished and the day began to wind down.

At 6 pm, Dad decided to retire to his bedroom for awhile. In a few moments, however, he reappeared in the family room doorway. "I hate to tell you this," he said, "but, um, the toilet in my bathroom is overflowing, and there's water running all over the floor."

Lee immediately leapt into action, almost pushing Dad to the ground in his haste to survey the damage. He returned in a second to report, "The water's about to reach the hardwood. Grab some old towels quick!"

By the time I got to the bathroom, Lee had stopped the overflow and was furiously wielding a sponge mop to sop up the water. I threw down a dam of old towels onto the tile floor a mere 12 inches from the hardwood in the hallway. Crisis averted.

Still, it was quite a mess to clean up. Yet, as we stood there dealing with the watery disaster, Lee and I looked at each other and started laughing. How much more absurd could things get today?

At that moment, we discovered what so many other caregivers know: Grasp every opportunity to laugh at yourself and your situation.

One evening, feeling frazzled while trying to juggle dinner prep for Dad with homework help for my 9 year old step-granddaughter, Emma, I said to her, "By the way, what do you want to call my dad? Great-grandpa? Grandpa John? Just 'John'?"

Emma contemplated this for a moment before solemnly replying, "How about Grandpa Bubba?"

Amid the laughter that followed, it suddenly seemed less urgent that dinner be on the table precisely on schedule. What difference would five minutes make, more or less? My stress dissolved.

Even Dad retains his sense of humor about things. One day, he somehow managed to become totally wound up in his oxygen tubing, like an O2 dependent mummy. Looking at me quizzically, he said with mock urgency, "Don't just do something! Stand there." An old joke, but one that set both of us laughing as I gently unwound him.

Sometimes, a system or device will provide a source of amusement.

Dad loves to watch old, black-and-white westerns, but he's extremely hard of hearing. So Lee helpfully activated closed captioning on the TV. Recently, Dad and I were enjoying an old western movie, and as it reached a climactic point, with tensions among the bad guys running high, the ringleader angrily growled, "I won't tolerate no rogue riders."

The closed caption, however, read, "I won't tolerate no rouge riders."

Dad and I laughed so hard, we never did see how the movie ended.