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My father died 6 weeks ago, and my mother, who has Alzheimer's, keeps asking where he is. Every time we tell her he died, she weeps and gets so upset. Should we make up a story about why he is gone, or just keep telling her over and over that he died. I hate to see her go through the grief each time.

December 30, 2013

My father died 6 weeks ago, and my mother, who has Alzheimer’s, keeps asking where he is. Every time we tell her he died, she weeps and gets so upset. Should we make up a story about why he is gone, or just keep telling her over and over that he died. I hate to see her go through the grief each time.

This is such a tough situation, in part since you have to also relive your own feelings and grief every time your mom asks for your father.

Years ago families were told to make up a story like “dad is playing golf.” Today we think this goes too far. You’ve repeatedly told her the truth and this is deeply upsetting. Perhaps you can find some middle ground?

Engage her in some meaningful conversation about your dad. Ask her to tell you more about their first date, their early years buying a house, if your dad liked to cook or about some of the hobbies or interests you know about him, “remember when dad bought that fishing boat?” Sometimes letting her talk and sharing some happy memories is therapeutic (for her and you).

When you do tell her about your dad’s death, follow immediately with a happy memory, “Didn’t he make the best apple pies.” This can set a more positive emotional mood.

If you mom continues to ask about where he is, you can gently answer something like, “I’m sure he is up to something.” or “that rascal does always like to do his own thing.” While you are dodging the truth, this is a softer way to change the subject and avoid causing her more distress.

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