When dementia and forgiveness are thrown into the same sentence it is common to first think of forgiving the person with dementia, to reconcile past hurts and wrongdoings. But, what about other family members? What about forgiving brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins? What about forgiving ourselves? What about the care team?
No one is perfect. That is not a dementia statement, but a human statement. All of us carry the need to forgive and the need to ask for forgiveness. We seek healing, not always sure how to get it, fearful of how it might change a relationship, and maybe not for the better. In the context of dementia, how do we forgive our family and friends for how they might have treated our loved one? Do they even know forgiveness is needed, that they caused harm? Dementia is a thorn in life. It is scary, difficult, taxing, sad. It is loss, change, and transition. Just as each person with dementia will have a different journey, so too will the family members. Harm may be unknowingly done because of a lack of understanding or education. Hurt can come from the stress of daily life colliding with the fears of dementia and if we are an adequate care partner. Pain can come from a family member no longer knowing how to communicate with, or help their loved one, and so they lash out. We don’t understand why the person we are caring for is not adhering to the schedule or the new plan for medication distribution. We wonder why they are acting out of character, or have changed a behavior. Yelling, cornering, ignoring, denial, these are some of the actions our family members may take, we may take, when trying to care for our loved one with dementia. We must forgive ourselves and our family. Once the person has passed away, we, the family, remain. Allowing these feelings to fester with each encounter, or thought of the other person only allows more thorns to grow, and we get pricked enough during this chapter of our lives. We need to forgive regardless of the ability to fully reconcile. Forgiveness becomes the rose.
When our loved one is diagnosed with dementia we do our best to assemble a care team, find the right in-home care company or care community. The care may not be to the standards we expect. We may get angry or frustrated at the way they are approaching care. We need to forgive these individuals as well, even if elder abuse is occurring, we need to forgive. You MUST NEVER accept the abuse or allow it to continue. Anyone who knows me, knows I have zero tolerance for any form of abuse. That requires you to take action. But once your loved one is safe and at peace once more, you may forgive, if only for your own peace.
Forgiveness is tricky. It is something that everyone with a pulse struggles with throughout their life. We struggle to ask for forgiveness, to see that we need to forgive or be forgiven. We struggle to engage in the act of forgiveness; one that may take a lifetime. Despite these struggles, it is necessary. Years may have passed, some of these people may no longer be in our lives, but seek to forgive, including forgiving yourself.