When Ed, my beloved Romanian life partner of 30 years, was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's, I was devastated. I knew in my heart I'd never be able to accept it. It was so bad I couldn't even have a meaningful conversation with him. He couldn't praise me for my accomplishments. He couldn't give me advice about my problems He couldn't be my rock who had always been there for me. I was lost deep in the clutches of grief.
Then one day on a whim and against my better judgment I took him a little stuffed animal. He loved it. We started playing simple games with it. It was fun. It was like a mother playing with her little two-year-old. So I took him more animals and he loved each one more than the one before.
After a few weeks of this I realized that my heart had changed forever. I had finally found a way to relate to him - one that was truly satisfying for both of us. I was delighted to see his happiness. When I realized I could bring pleasure to my "new Ed" it was more than enough to make up for the loss of our previous relationship.
Make no mistake about it - truly accepting the fact that your loved one has Alzheimer's will not be easy. It will take time. And the amount of time will vary from person to person. It could take weeks, months or even years. At the beginning you may feel convinced that you won't be able to do it. In fact, despite how hard they try, some people never reach a state of acceptance.
You will probably need to grieve before you can truly accept the situation. You will need to grieve the loss of the person who was. Grieve for the fact that the person isn't ever going to get better. Grieve for the fact that the person will continue deteriorating over time. Isn't ever coming back. You may feel overwhelmed by your grief.
If you were taking care of the person at home and then you place him or her in a facility you may feel that now most needs are taken care of by the staff. You may feel unneeded. When you take care of someone for so long and the person doesn't seem to need you anymore there is such an enormous vacuum and you may feel so useless and unneeded.
You will probably miss having the person around all day every day. No matter how relieved you may feel that you're no longer on duty 24/7, you may still feel deep grief at the loss of companionship such as it was, no matter how difficult it was to keep the person at home.
You may also feel angry at the person for changing. You may feel angry if you can no longer have meaningful conversations with the person. If he or she doesn't recognize you anymore you may feel even more anger. You may feel so angry you don't even want to visit the person anymore. You may even wish the person were dead. This, too, is normal. This anger is part of the grief process.
You may feel especially angry if you experience some of the most difficult situations to accept: if the person doesn't recognize you anymore, if they find a new love, or if they don't talk anymore. These situations are among the most painful you'll ever face and will probably take longer to accept.
Give yourself time to grieve. The grief will probably end sooner or later and you may finally be free to accept the situation, which will lead to the possibility of truly enjoying being with the person and having joyous visits.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website (ComeBackEarlyToday.com) contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.