In the two years Lloyd Tyrrell lived in Long-Term Care at The Village of Tansley Woods, his son Andrew learned so much. He learned how to be present with his father instead of correcting the inaccuracies of his dementia-altered memories; he learned to see the grace and compassion the team offers their residents in all they do, as busy as they are; and he learned of the painful beauty that can come at end of life.
Lloyd and Andrew, father and son, together to celebrate
the New Year together in 2020.
Lloyd died in the waning days of a year that saw many families having to say goodbye to their elders, but his passing had nothing to do with COVID-19. It was the natural progression of dementia and age in a man whose life had been lived well with a family that loved him dearly. Andrew was able to be with him in those final days but as he reflects on the past two years he realizes he was able to be with his father in much more meaningful ways in their every interaction, in large part thanks to all he learned from the team of caregivers supporting his father at Tansley Woods.
The team taught him about the individual nature of dementia. Early on Andrew would try to correct his father during his daily visits. For example, his father would talk about boats he’d seen in the harbour, while looking out his window as if he were back upon the Caribbean islands of his youth. Andrew would point out that there is no harbour outside the windows, but the team taught him to reframe those conversations.
“ ‘You love your dad and you will have a much better time if you are with him in the moment,’ ” Andrew remembers being told, and soon the conversations were opportunities to be present in Lloyd’s memories, wherever they might lead.
Instead of correcting his father when he would say ‘I’ve got to get to work,’ Andrew would suggest that maybe they just take a coffee break first along the Village’s Main Street and from there, the conversation would move on.
Their time together, even as Lloyd’s health declined, seemed more meaningful when they were present together and Andrew accepted where his father was in the moment, instead of attempting to correct the reality dementia was presenting.
Andrew’s gratitude for the team is deep when he speaks of his father’s time at Tansley Woods, as short as it was. The family had hoped for many more years, as Lloyd was always physically strong, but judging the progression of disease is a difficult feat. Three weeks before his passing, Lloyd was still easily walking around but it soon became apparent that time was fleeting.
“They had done all they can,” Andrews says, noting they had tested for everything, including COVID-19, but there was nothing to be done. “It was just the natural progression.” Andrew was able to spend time with his father, as the rules around essential visits allowed for family members to be with a loved one facing end of life. He would spend as much time as he could and after one visit while he was sitting along Main Street gathering his emotions, Chris Micheletti, the Village’s assistant director of nursing care, stopped to talk.
‘I know what’s happening,’ Chris said calmly, ‘and if there’s any support I can give to you, we’re here for you.’
Andrew thought the team was already doing everything possible, so when the offer came for Andrew to stay indefinitely, he sped home to gather a few things and returned to be comfortable in his father’s room with a spread of food and beverages. As much as the team checked on the resident they served, they were there for his son, as well.
“I was able to spend a lot of time with him,” Andrew says. “He passed away in the late evening of the second day, and I had a chance to hold his hand and say my goodbyes and say my thank yous, and I was able to chat with him about my future.
“Because of the Tansley staff, I got the closure that I needed and I came out better on the other end. It’s not simply just words for the sake of my father passing away; Tansley really gave me a lot and I’ll do my best to show my gratitude because they really are deserving.
“They love the residents,” Andrew says, recalling all the many days he’s spent with the team in the past two years. “They really do make them comfortable.”