Forgiveness vs Forgetfulness

During my almost 30 years of working in long- term health care, I have encountered residents from every possible walk of life. Rich, poor, black, white, red and mixed race;  from the trailer park to Fifth Avenue, with personalities ranging from “precious” to extremely violent.   I have sat in my office and listened to the  family members summarize the person their loved one was  before dementia.n

” Daddy was a hardworking man. He took care of mom at home for 4 years.”

“My mother was always the caretaker in the family; from laundry to lunches, mother did it all. Hard to see her like this.”

” My husband was such a kind man.”

” Pops was a good church-going man. Breaks me down to see him like this”

” My dad was a mix between Hank Williams Sr and John Denver. Just a good ole boy from the southern part of West Virginia. ”

” My mother was the sweetest, kindest, most tender -hearted person I have ever known.”

” My father was the meanest, most evil and abusive man. He tormented my mother and us kids every day of our lives until we were old enough to get out of his house. He was a bastard then and is a bastard now. Now that he has Alzheimer’s he has forgotten to be the monster he was.”

” My mother was not the nicest of people. You could say she was just plain mean. She would cut switches from the tree out back of our house and whip us until we bled. Now it is my duty to make sure she is cared for. It’s harder than I thought.”

” Nevermind what kind of man my husband was back then. He is old an feeble now. Just take care of him.”


I admit, listening to the family describe their loved one from past experiences, can at times, be very difficult. I sense their obligation to the parent or spouse, but also feel their hatred for them.  I had one fellow tell me ,” Send me the bill for dad, but don’t expect to see me or anyone else for that matter. He wouldn’t walk across the street to see his own father when he died, so don’t be expecting anyone to come see him. Just bill me. Call me when he dies, after you call the funeral home.”

Tell me how to I should respond to that.  A simple one word ” Okay” ?  Hmm, that seems too cold, distant and wrong.   Do I try to explain that he, himself should try to forgive his father for whatever grudge because his father will die soon?

I simply nod at the son and leave all words unspoken. My job is to care for and insure  the wellbeing of every person and not pass judgement on anyone for past present or future behaviors.  Yet, I am troubled by the patient who must die alone, without the family he/she once had.  It is also hard for us as caregivers to visualize a feeble, confused, incontinent person as  abusive, commanding and mean-spirited. We contribute any type of aggressive behavior to the disease process, not personality.


It truly must be difficult to be in the position of the adult child who must care for his/her abusive mother or father. I honesty do not know how I would handle such a situation……..But I do know this; even the most aggressive resident responds to love. The other day, a resident was raging with anger and had somehow ripped a baseboard off the wall, which he was swinging at any staff member in his path.  When I arrived on the unit, I never stopped walking toward him….my arms were wide open as I said “Mr. Marks! I am so glad to see you, can I have a hug?”  I never took my eyes off of him as I walked directly in front of him.   His response?

” Hi baby, sure. You look pretty today.”   After a few minutes of hugging and talking I had secured the weapon, calmed him and had him sit in a recliner to watch TV.       All it took was a hug.      Am I saying that every time a resident become behavioral I rush out and hug them to change the behavior?  No. I am saying I use wisdom and always approach with compassion, kindness and empathy.  It is my opinion that regardless of the disease process, people can always feel love and will respond to it.    Mr. Marks was, according to his daughter, one of the ” worst monsters a child could ever have”.   Today, no one visits, no one calls…..he simply exists and rages out of control every so often.    I sometimes think that he and others like him, think about the things they have done in life, stewing on the facts until they explode.  It is my opinion that dementia does not disable repressed memories….as a matter of fact, I believe the memories can become more active. Here is the problem. How does a person ask for forgiveness when they no longer can hold the memory long enough to remember what they need forgiveness for? The short ” breakaway” memory of being a “monster” is forgotten as the thought changes……So forgetfulness prevails.

The victim will always remember the abuse  but at what point does  one look deep into their own soul and find emotional healing?  Can that ever be achieved?     Will the victim ever be able to look at the aged, infirmed, helpless abuser and feel any emotion?      

I don’t know the answer. I simply know it is painful to see both sides tormented and know that resolution is more than likely, not ever going to happen.

We all need to remember that how we treat people today, will affect both of us for the rest of our lives. Some things in life can never be undone.  So treat everyone  in your life well while you can……because one day, it will just be too late.


3 thoughts on “Forgiveness vs Forgetfulness

  1. I admire you and I stand to honour you. What an important role you play in peoples’ lives and their deaths. My father had a good life – and a good death – thanks to so many who surrounded him with love – including me. How to respond to that Dad? I would simply feel sorry for that son for holding a grudge for so long. It is his pain he carries, not his father’s. Sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One thing I think you are missing in this is that a person who grew up under an abusive parent is still being abused by them, in the same spirit as before, in the dementia. So from your perspective you can attribute it to the disease and it’s easy to say, oh they don’t know what they are doing. But a person who has suffered long term abuse knows that they are no different now than they were then, and whether or not they know what they are doing is irrelevant – the victim is still suffering the same abuse of that person that they always have. Not only that, they also know that if they did know what they were doing and could see the effects it had on their victims they wouldn’t care (actually, the severely abusive in some ways enjoy the suffering they cause). Long term abuser are generally unrepentant.

    I applaud your work and I think we in the world are all blessed by people like you, to take care of those we just aren’t willing to suffer under any longer but still feel the appropriate obligation to ensure they have what they need. In some ways abusive people place a heavy burden on more than their families, because once the family is exhausted and can no longer put themselves in harms way, someone else must take on that person’s care. We didn’t have a choice when we were children, now we have people like you to offer us that choice as adults. Thank you for that.

    But please also try to see it from our perspective – we don’t have the luxury of the distance you have from the person. You are new to a relationship with them, and your time with them always has a limit, we have a lifetime connection to them. We can forgive but each time we encounter the person old wounds are re-opened and new wounds are inflicted. I agree that you must forgive, but please remember that’s not the end of the story. If the only way to protect that forgiveness is to remain out of contact with that person, you have to distance yourself. It’s sad, I agree, but true.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hg, I understand what you are saying and appreciate the insight you have shared. You have given me a deeper understanding of what the families have endured emotionally. I have read your comment about ten times now and see something new with each reading. Very, very powerful and well stated. Thank you so much for taking the time and sharing your thoughts with me. Big Hugs- Jessi

      Liked by 1 person

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