Living Life by the Second

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As a caregiver, it can be difficult to not take your parent’s words personally. Learn to recognize when your parent is having a bad day.

My MIL has a favorite saying. She says it frequently. I wish I could tell you it is charming or helpful or even humorous but it’s none of those things. In fact, it is on par with one of the worst sayings I have ever heard. 

“My life sucks swamp water.”

Boy, if I had a nickel for every time this has been said to me in the past four years, I’d be a very rich woman right now and might feel better about these repulsive words. I had not heard this abhorrent phrase before we moved in with my MIL and I will not be disappointed if I never hear it again. 

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recognize when your parent is having a bad day

As a caregiver, it can be difficult to not take your parent’s words personally especially when those words seem to criticize your care of them. What was I doing wrong to make her feel so negatively about her life that it would “suck swamp water? 

When we first moved in four years ago, this was said multiple times a day. I understood. Her husband just died. She is now being cared for by her children. She is suddenly being “forced” to do things she didn’t want to do, kept from doing things she thought she was capable of doing, while her home was invaded by young people. Our lives were chaotic and full of conflict.

As time went by and we established our “normal” I heard this phrase less and less. But even now, every few days or so, these words come pouring out of her mouth. I have no warning. I can’t pinpoint a particular cause or trigger. Sometimes it’s not even said to me. I’m always shocked when I hear it because to me, our day has been, well, normal.

Recognize When Your Parent is Having A Bad Day

What not to do

My first reaction is always to defend her life.

“How can you say your life “sucks” when you have people fighting over you, sacrificing their lives to give you the best possible care? How can you say these words when I’m waiting on you, seeing to your every need, giving you every ounce of care in me? You spend your days in the loving embrace of your family and in the comfort of your own home. What more can we do to make you happy?”

My defense always starts an argument which ends in her accusing me of hating her, the exact opposite of the grateful realization that I hope for.


A standard tactic is redirection.

“Oh, your life sucks swamp water? Let’s make some tea and watch Law and Order.”

While this is a very useful tool for caregivers, it often backfires, especially when genuine emotions are involved. The more I redirect the more agitated she becomes. Finally, she stubbornly refuses to do anything else until I affirm her feelings that her life is indeed horrible.

We all have bad days

One day after she used this phrase repeatedly, I was trying yet again to convince her that her life wasn’t all that bad, that she does have mostly good days where she is, dare I say it, happy.

I recalled the events of “just yesterday” where she laughed, and talked, and experienced a life that didn’t suck swamp water.

Her reply was typical, but this time I really heard her and it stuck with me.

“But see,” she said, “I don’t even remember that.”

See life through their eyes

When I have a bad day or even a bad attitude day (you know the days that nothing is going wrong you just feel negative?), drawing on the memories of my good days and knowing that there is a lot of hope that tomorrow will be a good day at least keeps my head above water until the “bad” passes.

When my MIL has a bad day, that’s her life. She no longer has the memory of yesterday to give her hope that tomorrow will be better.

She lives in every moment.

If her day, or even that minute is bad or in any way negative then that makes her life “suck swamp water”. 

In Dementia every minute is your first and last. You don’t remember what happened before this moment and you won’t remember this moment when it’s gone. Your life moves on second by second and your life’s quality or worth is determined by your emotions of the moment. 

Validate their feelings

My MIL saying, “my life sucks swamp water” is her way of telling me she’s having a bad day. So, next time I’ll hug her, acknowledge she’s having a bad day, assure her she’s loved more than she knows, and continue trying to make our day joy-filled.

No, she won’t always remember our days are mostly good, but the fact that this phrase is being said less and less is affirmation that somewhere inside she knows her life isn’t all that bad.

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