An aged hand holding up a tear-stained pair of old photos. One is of a bride and groom and the other is of the same couple at a lake.

Losing a Loved One with Alzheimer's: What Happens After the Loss?

Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease. I think it's fair to say we’d all agree on that one. There are some beautiful moments but on the whole, we watch our loved one disappear before our eyes while they are still alive. It is a long slow departure that is heart-wrenching for all.

My dad had Alzheimer's, and now he's gone

My dad passed away 2 years ago from Alzheimer’s. He left behind a beloved wife, two sons, and a daughter, one daughter-in-law (or two, there was a divorce), six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Each of us has dealt with the loss in our own way. As it should be. Sadly, the great-grandchildren never really got to know him. They were too young and lived a province away. Dad was in the middle-to-advanced stage when they were born. Dad was not able to travel well by any means when the great-grandchildren were born.

The grandchildren have dealt with the loss each in their own way. As have my brothers. They don’t talk about it much. And that’s ok. The loss for me was awful. Some days are still hard, but at least now I feel like I won’t burst into tears unexpectedly and then need to explain why and that I’m ok. Because I am. There are still some things I can’t do yet. I still can’t listen to Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World’ because that was the song I danced to with my dad at my wedding.

Mom's grief over losing my dad

But as I watch my mom even now, my loss is nothing compared to hers. She lost the man she loved. They were married 65 years. 65 years!! She never imagined losing him, let alone to Alzheimer’s. As with many families, there was no history of Alzheimer’s in our family.

Dad’s diagnosis originated from other health issues and life events. Mom was there with Dad 24/7. She lived through every good and bad moment with him until she couldn't handle his care or other behavior changes any longer.

She lived through us wanting the best for both of them by moving Dad to a memory care home sooner than when she wanted. Of course, he didn’t move until Mom was ready but she had to try to balance her love for him and her love for us so many times when we were opposed to Dad still being at home. We, my brothers and I, did everything we could to support Mom and Dad, but the reality is that we were somewhat limited in the help we could offer as Mom and Dad lived hours away from all of us.

I wish I could take away Mom's pain

Now that Dad has gone and time has passed, I see the loneliness my mom has been left with. There is a void in her life where Dad used to be. She misses him terribly. She accepts that he is gone. She accepts that she did her very best for him. But her heart was broken through all of this.

I wish every day that I could take away her pain. She doesn’t talk about it much but I know it’s there. Mom doesn’t talk about it because she fears burdening us. It is no burden to grieve together. I sometimes wish I could be where Mom lives more just to be with her, but I cannot. COVID-19 has interfered with that. I am a front-line worker and to go see Mom puts her at significant risk, so all I can do is call her. It feels so inadequate from my end but she appreciates the calls so much. I don’t want my mom to be lonely or alone.

Mom will be 90 years young next year. The saying “she didn’t know how strong she was until she needed to be” describes my mom. She has strength. She is brave. She has kindness. She has never seen herself as any of those things. But I do. She’s a remarkable woman. Although she has adapted, she will always miss Dad. He was her first and only love. I wish I could take away the pain that I know she feels in losing Dad. I hate that I can’t relieve her loneliness either.

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