Reality Bites: The Cost of Denial

by Pamela Katims Steele, PhD

She said it was “bait.”

“I just want to see what happens. Besides, it will make the conversation more interesting.”

She often said the most bizarre things, asked questions to which the answers were obvious, interjected thoughts totally unrelated to the conversation.

For years, we thought my mother was just seeking attention, being strange and often embarrassing. We had endless excuses for her behavior. All of them ended when my father died and could no longer serve as the “brains” of the duo. He could no longer compensate for her losses.

It was time. I had to confront my fears and take her for an assessment.

We met with a doctor who, at the end of the exam, ushered us out the door, handed me a booklet on Alzheimers, patted me on the back and said, “Good luck.” (I’d like to believe that wouldn’t happen today).

Mom lived with us for six weeks, difficult weeks. After multiple episodes of wandering the house at night, shuffling through drawers, belittling anyone who came to the house to help, and growing paranoia, it became clear that we were in over our heads.

We moved her to a beautiful residential facility, surrounded her with her own furniture, art work and personal belongings, lined up appropriate resources to provide support and prayed she would adapt. While there were moments of acceptance and lucidity, her decline continued.

The window of opportunity for meaningful conversations was quickly disappearing. Adapting to a new environment and new routines, meeting new people, navigating on her own was challenging and exhausting. Even she admitted, during one of her more lucid moments, “I should have moved here years ago. I don’t have the energy to deal with all these changes now.”

Sharing stories, recounting memories and planning/preparing for her death became one-sided. A clear understanding of her desires at the end of life remained an unknown. We waited too long. Even when she was younger and fully capable, she was unwilling to discuss death and dying. And I didn’t know how to. So it just didn’t happen. And now – it was too late.

Difficult lessons. Lost opportunities.

My husband are I are doing it differently. We’re talking to each other, planning, preparing and sharing everything with our children. They may not know it now but this is our gift  – to them and ourselves.


Pamela Katims Steele, PhD is an End-of-Life Workshop Facilitator in the Palm Springs, California area  for Heartworks.  You can reach her at  760-673-7407 in Palm Springs and at  206-542-4205 in Seattle.  Her email is

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