Should we tell Mom that Dad is dying?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother, age 85, was recently diagnosed with moderate stage Alzheimer Disease. She is traumatized with noticeable memory loss just by having to leave the house for any reason or any upsetting news. Recently my father became ill and may soon pass away. How much do I tell my mother and should she attend the funeral if he dies?

Expert Answers

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

This is such a difficult issue that effects hundreds of families each day. How much do I tell the memory-impaired person and how much may be too much or not enough. I hope the answer is a bit more clear. Living with Alzheimer's and coping with grief simultaneously can be can be both back and heart breaking.

I too have mixed emotions but will base my reply on the years of collecting data from folks in the same scenario you now find yourself in. Illness and death are both a part of life and grief is a part of living. I truly believe that we all need, perhaps deserve or even have the right, to grieve the loss of a loved one. This is definitely compounded when memory loss prevents the information from being stored in the brain and retrieved later. Therefore, your Mom may be looking for your Dad the day after the funeral not recalling the previous day's service. Experiencing his illness and his death should occur once and not each time she looks for him. The question may well be how often do I refer to the impending death rather than do I mention it at all. Reliving a negative emotional experience may not be useful. Each time she hears of his illness/death it is like hearing it for the first time and the pain of this knowledge over and over may hurt her deeply. Do sit with her, hold her hand, and tell her of Dad's illness. Do tell her about the funeral/service on the day it is happening; do not give her too much time to have to deal with preparations that may be more than she can handle. People with Alzheimer's disease tend to fret over these issues and may not remember why they are fretting.

Do help her grieve and allow her to display her emotions no matter how inappropriate it may seem. Grief is very personal.

Yes, she should be a part of the funeral. If she continues to look for your Dad after the funeral, it may be helpful to explain his absence with a therapeutic fib rather than telling the truth that will start the grieving process all over again. "He's at the store" or "fishing" or any place that is logical in your own family setting. It seems ill-advised to relive this tragic occurence each time she forgets his passing.

I encourage you to look on this website for more information on Alzheimer's and Coping with Grief and remember to take care of yourself during this most difficult time.