My friend and I were recently having breakfast and talk turned to the upcoming Mother’s Day. Both of us have lost our mothers recently and a look of sadness and “I miss her” tears began to fill our eyes. As my thoughts drifted back to my years as a child, when I scurried to make mom breakfast in bed and bring her flowers from the yard, I softly smiled. She pretended to be surprised and always ate my creations, whether they were tasty or not. Growing into a young woman, the gifts became more memorable of the connection between mother and daughter. A pin that included the birthstones of her children and a dress in her favorite color that she proudly wore to dinner that night.
I moved away from home in my twenties and unfortunately our visits and phone calls became less frequent as I got married, raised a family, and returned to work. When her health declined it was my brother, her first born who provided her care. I was unaware of the time and effort being a caregiver involves and did not understand the emotional toll it was taking on him. Phone calls between us became even less frequent, and she would ramble on about her younger days and when I was little. I didn’t realize these were an early sign of dementia. I thought she was just “getting old”.
Kathryn shared that her mother’s days were just the opposite. She had lived her life as an independent business woman and only in later years did she moved back into her mother’s home to care for her. Every family has skeletons and demons in their family. For Kathryn, the demon was alcohol, and her mother’s life was filled with it.
She shared that the demons she had run from all her life, had now returned, as the alcohol escalated her mother’s dementia. This happens because drugs and alcohol use kill brain cells at a faster rate than simply age alone. One study found that people who consumed excessive alcohol in midlife were three times more likely to have dementia by the time they turned 65.
The relationship rekindled and they shared many years together in her mother’s condo. The time came however, when her mother required more care than Kathryn could provide. She placed her mother in an assisted living care community and they both adjusted slowly to the change of care and responsibility. Slowly her mother’s dementia progressed to her needing skilled medical care until her passing.
One year recently, my brother asked me to come stay with my mother while he took a week off for his birthday. Before my arrival, I though being a social butterfly all her life, she would also enjoy assisted living, but my brother, her Health Care Surrogate, insisted she remain in her home. Upon my arrival, I was very surprised. I had no idea how difficult it had been for him to care for her. She refused to bathe, was very forgetful, and asked the same questions over and over. She also accused me of taking anything she couldn’t find and saying “maybe I should just go home and leave” her alone.
Under my covers in bed, I silently cried. Where was the mother I remembered? Thinking to myself, “Why did I stay away so long?” I lost so much time with her.
The silver lining of that visit, I came to understand, was that people with dementia do have moments of lucidness. She never lost sight of the fact I was her daughter and I learned to meet her where she was mentally. We shared wonderful stories about how she met my dad at a dance and all of her friends in school. Tears streamed down my cheek as she sang the songs she used to sing me to sleep as a baby.
Over coffee, Kathryn and I laughed, cried, and remembered our mothers with love. Thinking about our upcoming Mother’s Day, Kathryn said, “My one suggestion is to not watch television as much. Those Hallmark movies and commercials have me sniffling and missing her so much!
Offering hope to others who are without their moms this year, I agree to a point. Tears are important and so is grieving. Grieving is our body’s way of expressing our loss and admitting we were loved. Kathryn shared that when her mother was alive they would often go to the beach and have a picnic. This year she and her sister will plan a picnic, go to mom’s favorite spot and remember. Remember the good times, remember the “not so good” times, but most importantly, remember mom.