Dad Has Dementia

Week 24: What Do We Tell Dad?

Last updated:

June 25, 2010

Tonight Dad shuffled into the kitchen for his nighttime cereal ritual. He was wearing an incontinence brief on top of his pajama bottoms. I didn't bother to say anything about this because it only would have caused him unneeded stress. And, besides, what difference does it make, really, if his brief is inside or outside of his pants?

I don't know exactly how to describe Dad's current mental state. On the one hand, he's very aware of what's going on in the moment, and he's also aware of certain things from the past. Yet he's also frequently confused by routine activities and imagines things that never happened.

We brought Dad to live with us by employing a pretext. Rather than simply telling him, "You can no longer live on your own, and Mom can't take care of you anymore," we told him it was best for him and Mom to sell the family home and move to be nearer Lee and me. He agreed. The entire time he's lived with us, he's believed Mom is beavering away back home, preparing the house for sale.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Mom and Dad's relationship has always been complicated. It couldn't be otherwise when you're talking about one person with a bona fide mental illness and another person with terminally low self-esteem and a paternalistic world view. To be honest, it's a miracle they never divorced. Or maybe it was a curse. Whatever, they remained together for over 55 years.

For many years, however, Mom has more-or-less despised Dad. She wanted a divorce. She never actually pursued it, though, and the reason for this probably boiled down to money.

They don't have a lot of money, and Mom rarely held down a job, so now she must rely on Dad's pension in old age. She can't afford to lose that.

Mom announced three weeks ago that she can no longer live alone because she's aging, too. She wants to sell the house to move near me. At last, Dad's dream will come true: His wife will sell their home for a small fortune, and then the two of them will happily live out the rest of their years together.

Well, not quite.

Mom is delighted to be shed of Dad. She wants nothing more to do with him. She plans to sell the family home and then reinvest the proceeds in a condominium not far from my house. She has no intention of divulging to Dad that she lives mere miles away or that he has realized a financial windfall from the home sale.

So, what do we tell Dad when this happens?

Does he need to know? As long as his financial needs are met, does the truth about the home sale matter? Would he even understand what's going on? How would it benefit him to be told his wife wants nothing to do with him?

These are some of the uncomfortable questions my siblings and I will be wrestling with when we rendezvous from three states for a powwow this weekend.