Editor’s note: I’d like to thank Naomi Feil, M.S.W., A.C.S.W., the developer of Validation for writing this months blog. If there is a topic you would like to have addressed in the VTI blog or clinical article of the newsletter, please feel free to leave a reply at the end of the blog or drop us a line at info(at)vfvalidation(dot)org.
“What’s wrong with Jack? Jenny’s voice was frantic.
“Your husband has Alzheimer’s Disease. We’ve given him a battery of tests. Short of an autopsy, we’re sure.”
Jenny Cook stared at Dr. Mann in disbelief. Deep down, in her gut, she knew that her husband of fifty years was not the same man she married.
She struggled to speak: “What do we do?
Do we have to put him away?
Dr. Mann’s voice held compassion as he nodded.
“He’ll get worse.”
Eighty-eight-year-old Jack lumbered into the living room. His walker pounded the tile floor. His eyes twinkled as he slapped Dr. Mann on the back:
“George, it’s good to see you, old buddy. They let you out, huh? Did you make Captain?”
Jenny squirmed in embarrassment.
“Jack, this is Dr. Mann. You are not in the Army. You’re home, and you’re sick.”
“I’m healthy as a horse. Ask George.”
Jack nudged Dr. Mann with a sly wink. Jenny straightened, her voice strained:
“I’m going to call our children. Mary is a social worker with old people. She’ll know what to do.”
Dr. Mann reached for his hat and coat. Jack shouted: “Buddy, you’re not leaving so soon.”
Dr. Mann’s voice was quiet but firm: “Jack, I’m your doctor, not your buddy. You have a disease called ‘Alzheimer’s’. Jenny’s going to find a place where they will take care of you.” He turned to Jenny, his voice low, confidential: “Here’s a prescription for a tranquilizer in case he gets aggressive. Let me know what you decide.”
Her voice quivering, Jenny called her daughter:
“Marge, Dad is going to die. He has Alzheimer’s Disease.”
I arrived out of breath, ten minutes later. I’m a Validation Worker. In order to know what to do, I had to enter Dad’s world. Is Dad oriented? Time Confused? Can Mom take care of him, or does he need to go to a long-term care facility? I felt fear bubbling inside. It’s hard to Validate someone in your own family.
First, I had to “Center”: breathe deeply, slowly, to expel my fear. To help Dad, I had to shelve the noise cluttering my mind and cross the street into his world.
Next, I must “Calibrate” to feel what he feels. I observed Dad carefully, from head to foot. His eyes were wide open. His lower lip turned upward, in a smile. His gait a bit wobbly, his movements direct, his voice deep, full of joy as he greeted me: “Mary, how’d you get here from St. Louis? Did Mom and Dad come with you”.
Mary is Dad’s sister. Dad always said I had her eyes. I explored:
“Do I look like Mary?”
“You are Mary,” Dad chuckled. “You look worried. My sister worries about everything.”
Validation teaches that on a deep level of awareness, the old person diagnosed with “Alzheimer’s” knows the truth, so we never lie.
Deep down, Dad knew that I wasn’t his sister.
I re-phrased: “Your sister, Mary, is a worry-wart?”
“Darn right!” He snorted, slapping me on the back.
I used another Validation technique: “Polarity”- I asked the extreme. “What do you miss most about Mary?”
Dad answered quickly: “She always listened to me. When the kids made fun of me because I was fat, she stood by me.”
I “Reminisced,” to get into Dad’s world.
“What did she say to you when you were hurt?”
Jack looked up, his eyes glowing: “She asked me how I felt when they were so mean. And when I told her, I always felt better.” Jack began to tear. I looked into my Dad’s eyes, and gently stroked his arm: “Dad, would you like me to listen to you, like Mary did?”
Dad kissed me on the cheek. “You’re a good daughter. I brought you up right.”
Re-phrasing (summarizing what Dad said in a question,) picking up his emotions, listening exquisitely, told him I cared. He trusted me. He expressed his pain. I listened with empathy. We were one person. Mom and I never argued with Dad. We Validated him. He died at home in peace.