If you saw the film ‘Ðespicable Me’  You’ll remember flashbacks to the childhood of the main character, Felonius Gru.  Growing up, desperate to get his mother’s attention he created one amazing thing after another – even a space rocket, but whatever he did, she showed no interest in him.  It was a sad insight in a funny film and was included, I think, to explain how Gru’s character had developed.   But considering her indifference to Gru, and their lack of emotional attachment, how would it have been had she developed dementia and he had become her caregiver?

I’ve met people in this position, caring for a mother or father who didn’t show love for them, who never gave them hugs, and am amazed at how they can care affectionately, often with much self-sacrifice .

Though there is a case that gives hope.  A daughter in her fifties described how, as her mother’s dementia progressed, her barriers melted and for the first time in her life, they were able to relate to one another.  ‘When things about her childhood began coming out I began to understand her,’ she told me, ‘and now, for the first time in my life, we are having hugs.’  She felt she had found her mother.

Others don’t have that experience.  Patty (name changed) managed her mother’s care for years, sacrificing her own interests and precious time with her growing family.  Her mother and (preferred) sister were continually critical.  When her mother died Patty struggled with anger and guilt; anger at the unfairness and guilt for feeling that way.  Counselling helped her work through complicated grief.

David (name changed) is caring for his father who has a good relationship with his brother, but not with him.  Growing up, his father was always critical uninterested in him, like Gru’s, and David knew that nothing he did would be good enough.  Now, in dementia, the negative attitude and indifference is still there (old patterns remain) yet David is faithful in his caregiving role.  ‘It hurts,’ he said, “I have always loved him unconditionally. I just wish he would say that he was proud of me, of the things I’ve achieved in my life”.

Caregiving is often a sacrificial role, in any situation.  In dementia, clinical specialists have named it the most difficult of caregiving roles.  When I think of people taking care like this, I like to think they’ll receive the reward Luke 6:38 talks about.  It describes giving of a different kind, but the principle is the same: ‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’

I so admire people who can do this.  They deserve our prayers.

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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