How Anna Talks About Death, and How I Bring Him Back – Each Time

My dad’s condition of Parkinson’s and dementia will often cause him to think of dying – till I talk him out of it.

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I gently lead my dad back from the precipice of dark thoughts, each time he begins to relapse. (Photo: iStockphoto)

I have had the “I want to die” conversation with my father a number of times. A conversation he initiates. A conversation in which he tells me that he just wants to end the degeneration that Parkinson’s disease, dementia and diplopia have launched on him.

Where he laments the loss of independence and mobility. On his quality of life. On the impact it has on me as his primary caregiver.

I don’t know what brings this on, but, I have often been confronted by “Sangeeta, I want to die” or “Sangeeta, why am I still living” – or some such refrain.

Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal with her father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008. (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal).
Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal with her father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008. (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal).

Addressing the Cause of Anna’s Suicidal Thoughts

The first few times I heard this, I deflected. It is easier to change the topic than to have a conversation on death. I deflect with “Anna, you are doing fine” or some such rhetorical comment.

From deflection, I moved to trying to find out what brought this on. I can well understand that a person with my father’s diseases and limitations gets depressed and that depression leads to thoughts of dying. Of ending it all. So I run through my mind all the reasons that could have brought on the depression – the medication, or a physical illness, or not speaking with relatives for a long time, or being cooped up at home, or boredom.

And then I address what I feel is the key driver of the depression in the best way possible.

I can well understand that a person with my father’s diseases and limitations gets depressed and that depression leads to thoughts of dying. (Photo: iStock)
I can well understand that a person with my father’s diseases and limitations gets depressed and that depression leads to thoughts of dying. (Photo: iStock)

From deflection to “what brought this on?”, I move to asking Anna, “Why do you want to die?” or “Why are you thinking of death?”

When his response to this question is specific, it is easy to address. But when it is not, I have to use logic and a process of elimination to determine the cause, and then address that cause.

Bringing my Dad Back From the Precipice

I then change the topic to walking, or food, or physio, or politics, or something that is safe ground. And coax him to do some activity. And I chatter away like a child about anything but death.

As I leave his house, I feel washed out! The clothes I am wearing have faded. The street and sounds and lights have receded into the background.

I address what I feel is the key driver of the depression in the best way possible. (Photo: iStock)
I address what I feel is the key driver of the depression in the best way possible. (Photo: iStock)

I have been through an emotional wringer and come out the other end still standing on my feet.

This time.

(After working in corporate India for over 29 years, Sangeeta has taken time off to look after her father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008. Sangeeta hopes that these authentic stories will help patients and caregivers understand and appreciate the impact of Parkinson’s Disease. You can follow Sangeeta’s blog here.)

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