My Dad’s a Goldfish – Looking for the step-monster?

The plan was for me to manage on my own for two weeks so I could see exactly how much care we required, what sort of care and when it was most needed. When I moved in I think I was in a state of shock, not quite believing this was really happening, nor comprehending just how different my life was about to become.

None of us were sure about how such an enormous change in his circumstances would affect the Goldfish. What I found myself coping with was not his usual behavior but his greatly increased confusion about his wife not being around and his daughter suddenly sleeping in the spare room and always being around. Although for the first few days he didn’t specifically ask where the step-monster had gone, it was pretty clear he was looking for her, especially during his night-time wandering through the house.

What should we tell him? Wee-sis was horrified when I suggested we tell the Goldfish the step-monster had died. She pointed out he would grieve for her then forget and ask again where she was so there would be a continuous cycle of him grieving each time he was told his wife had died. “And wouldn’t he ask about a funeral?”

“Well,” I said, “we could take him to a funeral. He wouldn’t know it wasn’t hers.”

“What if we bump into her in the street or the supermarket? How would he react if he thought she’d died and she suddenly popped up in Tesco?”

I asked how he would feel if we told him the truth – that she’d left him to live on her own, in her own house because she couldn’t cope with his dementia. I felt learning his wife had deserted him would be much, much harder to bear than news of her death. None of us could tell him the truth. We finally decided that, when asked, we’d say she had gone to visit her sister for a holiday. I’ve never lied to the Goldfish in my life. And now, the Step-monster was making me become a liar – and I’m sure he knew it.

In the evenings, if we weren’t actively engaged in playing dominoes or painting or doing a jigsaw the Goldfish was restless, getting up and walking towards the bathroom and back. When I asked if he needed to go to the bathroom, he said, as he set off again: “It’s the only place I can go.” He just wanted to move. He insisted at one point on going out and opened the back door. It was bitterly cold and he came straight back inside. It did remind me I needed to switch on the door sensors when we went to bed. On that particular evening he finally sat down and amused himself by taking all his sweets out of a bag, lining them up on the arm of the chair, putting them back in the bag, taking them out again, eating some then putting the remainder back in the bag. I was sitting next to him, laptop on my knee trying to finish a magazine article. I take my hat off to anyone who could concentrate on work under these circumstances!

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15 thoughts on “My Dad’s a Goldfish – Looking for the step-monster?

  1. From a really bad day, I’m sitting in bed reading your blog laughing and I know I shouldn’t, but I can just imagine the conversation between you and your wee sis about the step monster dying and taking your dad to any funeral and then meeting her in Tescos. I know laughing is in really bad taste, but I just can’t help it. Your poor dad. I believe in Karma and step monster will get her just desserts. Hopefully soon!!

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  2. The routine with the sweets reminds me of how people with autistic spectrum disorders often have an escalation of their obsessive behaviours—sorting things and resorting, lining up and relining up, tidying and re-tidying, when under stress or when things change and they try desperately to get at least something back into order. Such a difficult one—how DO you tell someone with dementia that their wife has left. I visit someone with dementia these days, and she is constantly looking for her husband coming to take her home. The staff tell her ‘he’ll be here soon’ or ‘he’ll be here shortly’ and so she waits and waits……..and waits… and waits. And gives up. I don’t know the answer—–I suspect there isn’t one, other than maybe opt for the truth. Or each individual do what feels right and best for them in the moment and situation they are in. When my aunt says that the wee stool she has her feet on is the one Tam brought from the Clennoch (in 1920 or something!!) I find myself saying ‘that’s no that yin but it’s very very like it, and then we talk about the Clennoch or Tam. That way I’m left feeling I’ve not patronised her but at the same time I’ve not said ‘no you’re dementing and getting muddled’ which seems cruel and harsh. I guess everyone has to find their own balance with it. Fascinating about the bathroom being the ‘only place I can go’. Do you think he associates the bathroom there, with a place he would be in on his own, so if he went there on his own again, then there was no difference at least there—whereas she would have been in the other rooms in the house and so is more missed in them????—or what??? The whole write up is fascinating Mary, and always bearing in mind that this is your DAD at the centre of it all. And departed wife remains useful as someone that all (or some of) the bad stuff can be put into. I’ve just had an image of your Dad throwing the sweeties at her from a distance! You may have wished to throw rather more than sweeties!

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    • Hello Janette, thanks for commenting. The lining up and tidying up seems to be quite usual in people with dementia. Perhaps this is so more with women than men but I don’t know for sure.
      I can’t help feeling it isn’t right for the staff to tell the woman her husband will be here soon – might it not be better to say he’s not able to come that day but maybe tomorrow? Your response to your aunt seems to be a much better one and often the person can be distracted – but that needs someoen to have the time to do it. Care home staff don’t seem to have time. I am so, so glad, dad never had to go into a home. I know for some people there really is no choice and we were extemely lucky to be in a position where we could ensure he stayed in his own home. Even in his own house he would sometimes say he wanted to go home although he can’t specify where ‘home’ was. Is it a real, remembered place or is it, as discussed at a recent Alzheimer project, a state of mind – home being a feeling of safety, happiness? In other words the person is not happy where they are. I might write mroe about this in a future blog post.
      The bathroom being the only place he could go was, I think, becasue it was the furthest away place in the house and gave him the longest walk.

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  3. I’m so glad you made the decision to continue. I’m sure it must be hard to do, but perhaps as so many people tell me, it may be therapeutic. Not sure, but it could be. Your story is too strong to have come to a stop before it was told. It was painful reading about his searching for the step-monster because my husband searches for me, even when I’m in the house. If I leave the room, he often calls my name, and when I leave the house, he often asks repeatedly about me, so much so that his caregiver must nearly lose his mind, although Jon always says it’s easier for him than for me because of my emotional involvement with Bo. All of the things you describe occur here in our house in New Jersey too. We lie to him every day about things, about where I am, where my parents (deceased for years) are today, where his parents are, why we can’t go “home” … and the way he needs to find something to do, to be entertained, even taking the sweets out of the bag….the sameness of dementia/alzheimers is so uncanny. Nancy

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    • Oh, Nancy, thanks for stopping by. I haven’t seen any posts from you for a while and hope things are okay – or, as okay as they can be.
      It has been quite hard to continue the blog but I did want to complete the telling of the story and maybe add up to date posts about how things are now. I’m not sure about the therapeutic value, either, but in a way I think it is a good outlet for the emotions. The best thing about the blog has been ‘meeting’ others in a similar situation. As you say, it is quite uncanny, how similar the behaviours are – if only we understood exactly why they do those same things, ask those same questions.

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  4. Mom does that with her meds. Lines them up, counts them, puts them back. Not that she has any clue how many should be left… I lie to her all the time. Every time I nod and smile and tell her how interesting her crazy version of reality is. But it’s a necessary lie. Not meant to harm but to protect. But it’s so damn hard…

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    • Thanks for dropping in, Julie. We couldn’t let dad get hold of his meds – they’d have been down the side of the sofa, or dropped into his breakfast cereal. I giess it’s the same thing, though, as counting his sweets. Maybe it’s something to do with trying to keep hold of some order in their lives?

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