A Snapshot

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

On a recent 90 degree day when the humidity was probably around the same number, I ran some errands, picked up some things I'd ordered, did some grocery shopping. I knew I needed to make multiple trips, so I left the back hatch open on the car.

My dad met me at the door, wearing his typical attire even for sweaty days: a long-sleeved sweatshirt and long pants.

Him: Can I help you with something?

Me: No, Papa, it's hot and humid, and I think you should stay inside.

Him: No, I can help you.

Me: No, it's okay. I got it.

He ignores me, and continues out to the car to help, while I'm bringing things into the house.

When I go back to the get next load, he's standing at the back of the car, looking confused.

Him: I would have helped you bring this in, but I'm not sure what's going to my house and what's going to yours.

Me: Papa, we live in the same house, so it's all coming in.

Him: Oh, I didn't know that. Here, let me take some things.

He brings some things into the house, asks where to put them, drops them on the table as I requested.

And then we repeat this same conversation three times with some slight variations.

When it comes to helping, my father won't take "no" for an answer, which is lovely and endearing and such a beautiful remnant of the person he used to be. I love this about him, and I'm so grateful he's my father.

But some days I catch myself wishing he wouldn't try to help. The "help" is sometimes not so helpful, particularly when it doubles or triples the time to accomplish a task or requires me to do it over. Explaining basic principles to him -- like how we live together -- sometimes seems to frustrate or embarrass him too, which I try to avoid since keeping him calm and peaceful is always the best path for everyone.

That complicates tasks too: the need to be cautious and engaged and peaceful all the time. Back to carrying in the groceries: I can't just do that by myself, quietly living in my own head while I'm working. I have to share the task with him, get out of my own head, and be aware of his. So a simple job can require more physical and mental work with his "help."

I make dinner every night, and he's always offering to help me. Sometimes I'll give him small jobs to do, but mostly I thank him and say that I've got it. Then he asks if he can set the table. If I say yes, I then have to help him find all the things that go on the table too, or else I watch him open one cabinet after another -- regardless of whether it's where I'm trying to work -- while he tries to pretend he knows what he's looking for.

One time when he was trying to help, I never found out why. I was working from home and on a Zoom call with colleagues. I was about to answer a question when he opened the door to the room where I work and started talking to me. I turned my head to him and said, "I'm working," and he exploded, yelling at me that he was just trying to help me and slammed the door. That time, I had some explaining to do on the call with my colleagues, then I had to remember what I was even talking about in the first place, all while wondering whether he would storm out of the house and then get lost as he has been known to do. So instead of just working, I now had to apologize to my colleagues, remember what I was talking about in the first place, and keep an eye on my dad's whereabouts.

These may seem like small and petty grievances -- I find them that way myself, and I'm the one with the grievances. But when they stack up on top of each other in any given day, they can be crushing. Small and petty still, but wearing you down into a place where you just want to be quiet in your own mind without having to manage the peace and well-being of others.

I chose this situation, and I knew going into it that it wouldn't be easy. But some days it's not the big things that make it challenging to live with someone with dementia, it's the added work of the little things that can wear you down.

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