Grieving Change

Joan and I talked through her obsession with George, a childhood-into-adulthood crush.  Her daughter told me, “When she talks about him, that’s when you know her meds are off and she’s depressed.”  But today was totally different.

Joan was out of checks and her daughter was stalling on scheduling a consultation with me to discuss the situation, a head-to-toe, soup-to-nuts, medical-to-financial discussion I needed to have as her mom’s therapist.  I feared that Joan was experiencing the “poop out” effect with some of her meds.  The antidepressant she’d been on for years wasn’t working.  She was experiencing huge waves of fatigue that she couldn’t shake, sleeping more than usual, including dozing off in our sessions.  I am concerned, I shared with the daughter, that your mom’s meds are going toxic, or at the very least, her body has changed and she’d outgrown their effectiveness.  

Out of concern, I tried to focus on the present with Joan.  She fiddled with some spare change on her table.  A couple of nickels, dimes, quarters and pennies.

“I don’t even know how much money I have,” she said.

“Shall we count it?” I asked, careful not to jump in if she wanted to talk instead.

Her movements were numb.  She agreed but everything happened in slow motion, a signal that her medications were likely off.  She fingered a coin and finally started to help me stack quarters very slowly.  We put four into a small pile.  She could tell the difference between a quarter and a nickel but couldn’t remember how many of each made a dollar.  I let her stack them and gently lined up four stacks of four quarters each, two stacks of dimes and nickels, and some random pennies that equaled 17 cents.  She asked me how much she had.

“Six dollars and seventeen cents.”

She looked confused so I showed her again how each stack made up one dollar.  She wrote down “6.00” but then looked at the stack of quarters and wrote down “4”.  There were four quarters in each stack.  I could see her begin to add the “4” to the “6”.  I pointed to her page.

“Would it be okay if I wrote down the total?” I asked.  She nodded and held her hands up off the paper.  I turned the tablet toward me and wrote “$6.17”.  Then I crossed out the other numbers she’d written and turned the page back to her.  She grasped the pages in her hand and stared at the numbers.  In the silence, I could see her realizing she had no idea how we got that number.  She looked tearfully back at me.

“You used to be able to do this, didn’t you?”

She nodded.  “Now I can’t.”

I didn’t say anything.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to me,” she said.

I asked myself the million dollar question: What does she need from me right now?  Comfort or trouble-shooting?

“It scares you that you can’t do this anymore?”  She nodded again, eyes big to keep the tears from falling.  She pushed her readers up on her nose.

“I’m so sorry,” I told her.  “It is so scary.”  And then we just sat there.  She moved on from her thoughts eventually, our session organically wrapping up.

“I don’t have any checks to pay you,” she said.

“It’s okay.  Your daughter is taking care of it.”  She nodded.

“You’re grieving some of these pieces.  I’m glad your daughter is trying to get you more help.  We’re working on it.”

She’d already forgotten that she couldn’t count the change but, true to its form, the dementia allowed the somber feeling to remain.  All I could do was address it in the present.

“Can I give you a hug?  I’m okay either way.”  Sometimes I think of it as less about what I can say to help someone with hard feelings and more about what I can do to help calm another lovely human being’s nervous system.

She nodded and I wrapped her in my arms for a moment.

“Your daughter and I are talking soon.  We’ll figure this out.”

She looked lost but recognized the lifeline and grabbed it.

“Oh good,” she smiled a little.  “I’m so glad.”

I smiled back.  She watched me walk down the hall to leave.  She couldn’t count change anymore – and the most I could do was be a soft place to land.  But maybe that’s what she needed.

Picture of Jill Eelkema

Jill Eelkema

Having the right guidance as you or a loved one journey through life’s transitions makes a world of difference. Jill’s helped countless individuals and families work through major life changes with confidence and dignity. Her expertise in psychotherapy, care management, and facilitating tough conversations with family members will give you confidence and peace of mind no matter how tough life gets.

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