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Cloaked with Good Intention

Helping the Person Living with Dementia Find Purpose

· Agenda,Dementia,caregiving

William was anxious to get the hall closet cleaned out. His wife Janet had been collecting coats, hats, and scarves for years and recently he had struggled to get her to agree to let any of it go to the local donation center. “You really don’t need all of this stuff anymore,” he would begin, “... I haven’t seen you wear some of these coats in years!”

Janet would protest that she had just worn that particular coat the previous winter or that she had donned the fleece hat at her grandson's party just last week. Although William knew that Janet’s memory loss had caused her to get her past and present confused, he would attempt to reorient her with facts such as “You did not wear that last week, it was 90 degrees last weekend for goodness sakes!”

One Saturday afternoon William and Janet’s daughter Cynthia stopped by to help with some light housekeeping. When she opened the hall closet to retrieve the vacuum, she became entangled in the coats and scarves hanging from the rod. “Dad, why don’t we look at thinning some of this out?” she asked.

William rolled his eyes and replied by telling Cynthia that he had been attempting this for months, “... but your mother won’t let me get rid of anything.” Janet overheard the conversation and became defensive, “Those are MY things he is trying to throw away. I do not want him touching any of it.”

It became apparent to Cynthia that the job needed to get done, but may be easier without William being such a big part of the process. Indiscreetly Cynthia asked her dad to come to the kitchen with her.

“Dad, why don’t we do this as a team?” she began. “Mom is obviously upset and we cannot help thin out the closet if she refuses. If we work together with the clear intention of making her look and feel good about it, she may be more willing.”

William tilted his head in contemplation, “How do you suppose we go about that? I have tried everything you know.”

Cynthia explained her ideas, “Why don’t you sit in your chair and turn on the ball game. When I hold up a coat that you know does not fit mom anymore, just give me a wink. That way I will know which pile to put it in. I will let her know that I am just making piles based on size to reorganize the closet.”

“I guess that will work,” William began “... but I doubt it.”

When the project began Cynthia told Janet that they were going to rearrange the closet by size so that she could get to what she wanted easier. Janet agreed but kept a close eye on each coat as it was removed from its hanger.

Cynthia held up a tan camel coat, “Mom, I love this coat. You let me wear it last Christmas and I got so many compliments!” Pleased with herself, Janet offered the coat to Cynthia, “Take it, honey. I am so glad you like my style! In fact, that hat and scarf go really well with it.”

Cynthia began to make a pile of items her mom was gifting to her. Janet then began to comment on the “uncomfortable cut” of a particular coat or the tight fitting sleeves of another. Cynthia looked to William who gave the wink to donate the unused items.

Once a bag was filled, Cynthia promptly moved it outside the front door.

As Janet eased into the process she became more willing to allow items to be placed in a donation box.

Twenty minutes into the project William smiled at Cynthia pleased with the success. There was a box of coats that Janet agree to donate. Three large bags were outside ready to load into Cynthia’s car and there was also a bag filling up with coats, scarves, and hats that Janet decided to gift to Cynthia.

When the closet was reassembled, Cynthia commented about how beautiful it looked. Janet chimed in, saying that she was happy she could finally see all of her favorite things. William was pleased with the progress and thrilled with the extra space the closet now had for cleaning supplies.

When Cynthia left for the day her dad followed her to her car. “I couldn’t have done that without you. You had a great way of making mom feel good about giving things away. She actually seemed proud to give things to you.”

“Mom still needs to feel like she has a purpose in decision making,” Cynthia began, “This way she felt really good about where her items were going. I couldn’t have done it without you either. With intentionality, we made a great team and made mom look good in the process!”

~ Cathy Braxton, Chief Education Officer, Silver Dawn Training Institute

In this story, the daughter and husband work together to help Janet find purpose in her everyday living. Learning to understand how our agendas (cleaning the closet) may get in the way of building purpose for Janet. Ultimately, setting aside our agendas will help us to create a connection.

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