The long farewell is further complicated when your loved one who suffers with dementia lives overseas or a long distance away.
As my parents were only an hour away, I asked my friend Jo to share some of her experiences of her Dad living in South Africa whilst she lived here in Australia. Her Mum was the main carer for her Dad who suffered from dementia and when her Mum passed away, it became very difficult. Her sister lived near her Dad. Her Dad passed away six months after her Mum – the same time frame as my parents. I asked her some questions which may assist others in this situation.
LongFarewellDementia (LFD): Can you tell me Jo, what was one of the main challenges you faced during those difficult six months?
Jo: The main challenge was the feeling of guilt that I wasn’t there with him. Only one sister out of four lived nearby and the responsibility of being there for him, was taking its toll on her already busy life. I felt guilty as I wasn’t there to share the burden with her.
Also, when I realised my Dad was deteriorating rapidly, all I wanted to do was to get on a plane and be with him, however my first grandchild was due at the same time. I was torn between the two. So I eventually decided to book a ticket for when the baby was 3 months old. Dad died 2 weeks before I had planned to arrive.
LFD: Such a difficult decision. How did you alleviate some of those feelings of guilt?
Jo: I would remind myself that my parents had agreed with, and been happy with, our decision to move to Australia, as they knew it was the best future for us and our children and grandchildren.
I also knew that they would have fully supported my decision to stay and help my daughter with her baby as she needed my support during that first three months. When I felt guilty, I had to remind myself I made the right decision.
LFD: Are there any tips you would like to share to assist others on a similar journey?
Jo: As Dad deteriorated, there came a time when phone calls were too difficult as he found it hard to find words and would be confused easily. The solution I found was to make short WhatsApp audio recordings and my sister would play them to him. I was also able to tell him about his new great granddaughter.
Feedback from my sister was to make the recordings short because if they were too long he would lose concentration. I had to speak in short, simple sentences. This comforted me knowing he could hear my voice even if I couldn’t hear his.
LFD: What a great idea. Any other last words of wisdom gleaned out of the difficulties you faced in this time?
Jo: My parents came to Australia to visit soon after Dad was diagnosed. It was hard to see him confused in conversations. We found it was best to talk about the past. Twenty years earlier, my parents had circumnavigated the world on a yacht for three years when we were all grown up. It was a good topic of conversation as my Dad had such detailed memories of every aspect of the trip. As he spoke of the trip, it helped with his self esteem. It brought back a sense of accomplishment as had gone into depression and lost confidence with the dementia. It was also good for our children to hear his story of this amazing feat. I was able to affirm him and thank him for teaching us to not be afraid to dream.
LFD: Thank you so much for sharing Jo. I am sure this will bring comfort to others bearing a long distance between themselves and their loved one with dementia.