This post is by Loren Shook, CEO and co-founder of Silverado Senior Living. He started the company with a belief that people with memory-impairing conditions were capable of greater engagement with the world and with their loved ones; a belief that grew from childhood experiences of working in a family-operated psychiatric care setting. Shook and his founding partner, Stephen Winner, co-authored the award-winning book, “The Silverado Story.”
All of us fortunate enough to grow up with loving fathers, are who we are today thanks to the lessons they have taught us. Whether it was how to fish, ride a bike, or throw a baseball, or the values of hard work, integrity, kindness and strength, what Dad showed us decades ago remains at our core.
As one who works with the memory-impaired, I believe the growing numbers of now-elderly fathers whose memories are disordered are teaching us a new kind of lesson. Understanding this lesson can resolve the anguish many of us so-called “adult children” of those with Alzheimer’s disease are feeling as Dad’s recognition of us and his ability to communicate slips away.
It’s the lesson of selfless love.
Time and again, I hear the same question from sons and daughters: “Why should I visit Dad if he doesn’t know who I am and if he won’t remember I was there?” Written out, it sounds shocking, but when spoken, it’s always tinged with profound sorrow and hurt. It’s understandable. When a father is so much a part of your own being, who are you if he no longer knows you?
My answer is always this: Your father needs you now more than ever, and what he needs from you is simpler than ever, too. Because the greatest pleasure you can give your father now is the gift of your time and your presence. You see, the worst pain suffered by the memory-impaired comes from their sense of loneliness and worthlessness. Just as you may feel that your father’s condition has come between the two of you, he feels increasingly isolated from the world and from the things that have always mattered. It’s no wonder that depression goes hand-in-hand with memory impairment, and sadly, it further aggravates health, both emotionally and physically.
While your dad might no longer realize who you are or greet you by name, it’s more important than ever for you to spend time with him. Just being at his side brings him greater joy than you can likely even imagine. He may not be able to express this pleasure in a way that you understand, or that the world at large comprehends, but without a doubt, he feels it and he feels that he is loved. In this way, you are nourishing his spirit, and the value of this is indescribable.
So I encourage you to take the occasion on Father’s Day to honor your dad in this way. Whether he resides in a senior care community or is receiving care in his own home, visit him and stay by his side for a while. Even if you can’t have the kind of conversation you used to have, there are still ways to make the time together meaningful.