Yesterday I visited a friend in a nursing home. She is in her mid-nineties and very smart. She is a brilliant Scrabble player and I like to challenge her whenever I am in her community. She didn’t know I was coming yesterday and she was delighted to see me. “Want to play?” I asked. As I pushed her wheelchair to the activity room to set up the game she asked me where I had been lately. I told her I have been very busy working. After she beat me in both games (with a 42-point word in the last game!), I escorted her back to the nurses station. “I will be back here next Sunday and we’ll play again.” She demanded, “Where will you be in between now and then?” I told her I would be working. I know she really appreciated my visit and the games but she wanted more time from me.
I remember talking to her daughter in the past. “My mother is driving me crazy,” she confided, “Every time I get ready to go home after I visit her she wants to know when I’m coming back. It’s like she doesn’t appreciate that I was even here. It makes me feel guilty.” My advice to the daughter and to all adult children is to remember that their parents are not who they were twenty years ago. When a parent is in fragile health and/or possibly living with dementia, they aren’t thinking the same way that they did when they were younger and healthier. They forget previous visits or confuse the timeline of visits. Pain and anxiety can also contribute to clingy behavior that is out of the parent’s usual character. Because of their vulnerable states, you may discover that it is not possible to spend enough time with them in their minds. I advise adult children to think back to their parents’ younger years: would your mom really want you to visit her everyday at the expense of your work, family, and, social life? Probably not, anymore than you would expect that commitment from your adult children. If your parent is in a safe living situation, visit your parent when you can and make peace with that frequency. On some level he or she appreciates your time and devotion very much.