"Hurry up girls, the cops are coming!" My grandfather's startling words rang through the house. I came running, and discovered him vividly reliving an incident involving illegal activities that occurred many years before I was born.
As a caregiver for my grandfather, I was learning long buried information about his life. Dementia was erasing the veil between public and private information, and I became privy to tightly guarded secrets. Some of this information was amusing, leading me to shake my head in wonder at the crazy stunts he pulled in his youth. Some of the information about love affairs and hidden children was more difficult to cope with.
I know I'm not the only one. I now understand it is common for people providing eldercare for their family members to become aware of surprising information about family members they thought they knew well. These truths may emerge in any number of ways, including dementia and the discovery of old journals. What matters is how we cope with the new information.
Whether you intended it or not, part of your caregiver journey is an archaeological adventure. When I changed my mindset from one of "shock and awe" to an attitude of exploration, I found greater peace and enjoyment in the process. Learning the true life stories of my family members has enriched my life and led to the discovery of relatives I am grateful to know.
Keep Your Sense of Humor
It is useful to approach emerging life stories with a sense of humor. You probably didn't intend to go spelunking through your loved one's life when you became a caregiver, but once there, it helps to see the humor in the situation.
Grieve when Necessary
Sometimes grieving is the best option. Learning about abortions, affairs, or discovering you are not a blood relative of the person you are caring for may require a dramatic re-evaluation of long-held beliefs. I find it helps to grieve the "loss of innocence" rather than lashing out in anger or telling myself I "shouldn't" feel a certain way. There is no substitute for talking with a safe person while coming to terms with the new information.
How have you dealt with unexpected life stories as a caregiver? Please share by commenting on this blog.