Ask Abbie: Adjust expectations accordingly and know you have done all you can do

Published 12:29 pm Saturday, March 23, 2013

Q. My father is 70 years old and was recently diagnosed with diabetes. He lives by himself and does not check his sugar levels like he is supposed to or keep up with his medicine. His diet is not good either. I have tried to talk to him and I even went to see the doctor with him, but he continues to neglect his responsibilities. What else can I do when he won’t let me help him and when he won’t help himself?

A.  What do Arctic foxes and the leaves of a tree have in common? They both change color out of necessity. What does a person who frequents a tanning salon and a piece of copper that has ketchup applied to it have in common? They both change color out of desire. Unless there is a perceived necessity or desire to change, whether it is with regard to color or to otherwise, a natural and normal reluctance to do so presents itself to guard against any discomfort that may result from the required disruption to current routine change requires. This protection mechanism will remain in place until the benefit of becoming willfully uncomfortable can be convincing enough to outweigh the cost of doing so.

Your father sees no need or else has no desire to change. Does you he think he is invincible? Have you ever heard him say, “That doctor does not know what he’s talking about?” Does he think he can fix the problem by himself without the help of the doctor or medicine? If you answered yes to any of these questions your father is likely in denial and may unfortunately have to have something severe enough happen to him before he is willing to face the reality of his situation and to implement change into his routine.

Another factor to consider: Growing old, health concern or not, can be a very scary time in someone’s life and cause him to lose his passion for life. Do you ever hear your father speak with a positive spirit similar to the following? “There is too much life left for me to live. I’m not going to go down without a fight. I enjoy being around my family so much that I want as many days possible on this earth with them as I can possible get.” If you answered no, your father may see little desire to change because his passion for life has become compromised.

Your dad must either acknowledge the necessity or find the desire to change his lifestyle habits before he will want and be willing to accept the short-term discomfort associated with doing so. Until then you should take an indirect approach when addressing his neglectful attitude. Do this by keeping your focus off of his health care regiment and onto loving him. A few suggestions to help you accomplish this goal include; leaving a note on his pillow that says “I love you,” writing a special note on the cup he drinks juice out of in the morning, or putting a picture of you with a special note on the dashboard of his car. Only when your dad’s fire for life has been rekindled will he welcome your help with his medical issues.

In addition, while you are at his home, drop off a couple of healthy homemade dishes, pre-draw a few insulin filled syringes, and set up his daily pills in an appropriately marked pillbox. Mention to your father what you did but do not suggest he eat the food or take the medicine and be sure to tell him you only did those things because you love him and care about him. Morning, noon and night he will feel your love which, when administered with a consistent, unconditional, and non-judgmental spirit, has been and forever will be the best catalyst for change. Remember, you cannot make your father change. Once you adjust your expectations accordingly and accept the fact you have done all you know to do, you will find the peace for which you are searching.

Only the caterpillar completes the miraculous transformation into a beautiful adult butterfly in about two weeks. Most changes that end in such beauty take much longer. Don’t give up on your father yet guard your emotions appropriately.

Abbie Long is a Franklin native and advice columnist for The Tidewater News. Submit your questions to