Take a Tip from a Writer: Show Don’t Tell


Take a Tip from a Writer: Show Don’t Tell

For writers, showing versus telling is the difference between this:

John was being aggressive. Jane was frightened.

And this:

“Stop! It’s me, Jane. I’m your daughter.” She ducked as the antique lamp whizzed through the air, missing her head by less than inch.

In the first example we are left to figure out what is going on. In the second one we see that John is out of control and Jane is in real danger. We feel for her and we want to help her in some way.

Showing your distant family members what you deal with on a daily basis may elicit a very different response than telling them about the vile language your mother spews at you when you try to get her to eat. Or how she refuses to bathe or change clothes and hits when you try to calm her. They insist that the sweet woman they know would never act like that. You must be making it up.

Any one of us could provide example after example of the chaos dementia causes. How exhausting it is to be sleep deprived for months. How mean someone who raised us can be. How desperate we become for a bit of understanding, a moment of peace.

So often I hear family caregivers say, “Only someone who has done this can really understand what it is like.”

It’s true. What dementia does to a person cannot be expressed in mere words. So what can you do?

Show them.

Use the video camera on your cell phone as a way to communicate with your family. Brief clips of every day behavior can be emailed in moments. Show the anger and aggression, the refusal to eat and bathe. Let your family see what happens when their loved one is hallucinating and how dangerous things can get. Show your family how hopeless you become. How much you need help and understanding.

Also include the brief moments of clarity when appear. You and your family will treasure them later.

Even showing may not get some family members to step up. Nothing I suggest works for everyone but at least your family will have seen what it’s really like to be a family caregiver. It can’t hurt. Might help.

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