Advice

February 15, 2006
iranian.com

Abandoning dad

QUESTION

Dear Shokooh,

My 78-year old father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last year. He moved in with me shortly after the diagnosis and I am now his sole caregiver and happy to take care of him. My problem is my own family -- my mother has passed away and my two brothers refuse to spent time with dad. They haven’t visited our father in two months and call very infrequently. I am growing angry with my selfish brothers. Our father’s health is declining rapidly and he misses his sons a great deal. They used to be so close to him but have absolutely abandoned him since he became sick! I have nagged and nagged and had dozens of go nowhere arguments, but nothing changes. What can I do to get through to my brothers? Why are they acting this way?

Thank you,

A Responsible Persian Daughter
(letter condensed)

REPLY

Dear Responsible Persian Daughter,

Your kindness and generosity are inspiring -- your father is going through a very difficult period in his life and he is lucky to have such a wonderful daughter to care for him and offer support.

As you know, Alzheimer’s is a painful condition not only for the patient suffering with it, but also for his family and loved ones. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a group of conditions that all gradually destroy brain cells and lead to progressive decline in mental function. Alzheimer’s is a disorder that destroys a person’s memory and ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities. As Alzheimer’s progresses, individuals may also experience changes in personality and behavior.

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, research has shown that effective care and support can improve quality of life for individuals and their caregivers over the course of the disease. Your kindness and love towards your father provides more than emotional support, but also has a direct impact on his quality of life and your own health as he goes through the changes this disease brings.

I can sense your frustration and anger with your brothers. You share that they have chosen to abandon your father at the most sad and difficult point in his life. It is no wonder that you are so angry with them! While their behavior sounds selfish and hurtful, I ask that you take some time to consider all perspectives. You share that your brothers used to be very close with your father and only drifted apart when he became sick. Perhaps your brothers have reasons for their behavior.Many times, when a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness, some members of the family have a difficult time accepting the disease and coming to terms with the inevitable changes. It is possible that watching their father’s health deteriorate is simply too painful for them. Seeing him may bring on sadness or negative feelings that they are having problems regulating.

Whatever the reason for their distance from your father, it is clear that he wants to connect with them. I recommend that you consider speaking with your brothers in a non-confrontational way. Perhaps approaching them with a caring and genuine curiosity would allow them to open up to you and honestly discuss what is keeping them away from dad. Ask them what is driving their avoidance -- is it a matter of scheduling and priorities or something deeper like pain and sadness? I sense that your frustration and anger need answers -- you want to know why they are acting this way. At the same time, it is clear that they are avoiding him and their behavior has dramatically changed since he became sick. Be prepared for your discussion with your brothers -- think about what important things you want to convey to them and practice your phrasing so that your tone and language foster discussion rather than ignite another “go nowhere argument.”

I hope you are able to have a discussion that provides you with a greater understanding of your family dynamics. Ultimately, however, your brothers control their own behavior. It may be sad and difficult for you to accept, but they may simply be unable or unwilling to connect with their sick father. If this is the case, I hope you will remember to take care of yourself and give yourself time and space to process things. You may, with good reason, be very angry with your brothers and need time to grieve for this change in your family structure. Be patient and gentle with yourself.

I wish you all the best. Please know that your commitment to your father in his time of need speaks volumes about you. I am honored that you wrote to me.

Be well,

Shokooh

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