Dealing with anger & hurt

My father, who has Alzheimer’s, has gone through so much in the last couple of months. My mother died, we determined he couldn’t live alone, we took him out of his home, and now he is living in an assisted living community. He is very angry, and calls me all the time at work. I don’t know how to talk to him anymore and I don’t know if he is in the right living situation. What can I do? I just feel like there is no right answer.
Feeling Miserable in Denver

Dear Miserable,
Your father isn’t the only one who has gone through a lot in the last couple of months; you have gone through all of this too. It is natural for this to be an overwhelming and difficult time for both you and your father; you’re in the midst of the grief process – not only due to the loss of your mother, but the loss of your father as you always knew him. Is it possible for you to get involved in an intensive grief group in the area? It would be so helpful for you to take one of the most important steps in caregiving – taking care of yourself.

Your father has reason to be angry- and it is a part of the grieving process. In addition, he can’t really process these changes because of his cognitive impairment. He is very likely to continue to ask for your mother, as he often will not be able to remember that she has died. That subject is covered in #1 of the Ten Absolutes: Never Argue, Always Agree. Because of his memory impairment; he will not only have forgotten that your mom has died, but if you remind him he will first relive the terrible news that she has died, then forget that you reminded him.

So, the best thing to do when he brings her up is to answer honestly, “I haven’t seen her today.” Then change the subject as quickly as you can. You are likely to have the opportunity to repeat this conversation several times, which will help you practice and get better at your response. In addition, while sorting through your mind for better subjects to bring up, make notes about all the good subjects and favorite objects or activities you and your father like to do. With this list, you can plan visits and enjoy them by focusing on changing disagreeable subjects to ones that are more pleasant, and focusing on how much you love your father as a person – regardless of the challenges you may be facing.