There are a variety of reasons that Father’s Day can be fraught for adult children, such as anger over estrangement, longing for an absent father, or grief for a father who’s deceased. All too often, though, we don’t acknowledge the very real anticipatory grief felt by the adult child who has a dad with dementia.
Unlike the single loss experienced when a father passes away, an adult child experiences multiple losses as their father changes and declines through the progression of dementia. While their father is physically present, dad’s mental or emotional state is different. That’s why Alzheimer’s disease is often referred to as ‘The Long Goodbye.’
When the adult child is the father’s caregiver, the loss that’s felt can be difficult to recognize as grief. So much of your time and energy is spent dealing with the overwhelming demands and responsibilities of caregiving that feelings of grief get pushed aside. Yet, a critical part of surviving the caregiving journey is allowing yourself to grieve the losses along the way and finding new and meaningful ways to make up for those losses.
There are varying degrees of anticipatory grief. You grieve because you miss who your father was prior to dementia. The child must parent their father and are often in the position of making difficult decisions while living in fear of what lies ahead.
To make it through Father’s Day – and every other day of the caregiving journey – it can be help for caregiver children to:
Stay in touch with the world outside of caregiving: As your time and energy become increasingly dominated by caregiving duties, enjoyable activities can drift away. Treating yourself to an afternoon or evening out with friends can relieve some of the sadness and loss.
Identify and process your feelings: Instead of trying to push down the uncomfortable feelings, allow yourself to acknowledge them. Write in a journal, craft poems, recite prayers, create rituals, or draw images.
Ask for assistance and emotional support: Talking about your feelings can be incredibly cathartic. Share your feelings and thoughts with a trusted family member, a close friend, a support group, a spiritual or religious leader, a dementia consultant, or a licensed professional therapist.
Adult children who are dementia caregivers can try to find meaning in their father’s journey. Take time to reflect on what you’re learning about yourself and your relationship with your father. Maybe you’re learning to let go of the little things, take one day at a time, choose your battles, live in the moment, be patient, accept what you can’t control, or laugh more. Having a dad with dementia is challenging, but it can also be rewarding.
If you need dementia caregiver support, please join my dementia support group or schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation.
Connect with Tami
Get information, guidance, and support delivered to your inbox each month.