My mother has always been my very bestest friend. I was the first child, but not the first pregnancy. So when I was born, I was joyfully and wonderfully welcomed. I was followed a short eleven months later by my sister. So the woman who wanted children intensely and fervently, suddenly had two small children within a year’s time.
Growing up, she was the best mother. She was generous, loving, protective, and sometimes pushy. She wanted the best for my sister and me. She wanted us to have the things that she did not have growing up.
My mother was the fourth child in a brood of thirteen. She was the eldest daughter. As the eldest daughter a lot of her mother’s burden fell on her shoulders too. She took her role seriously and devoutly. Thinking back to when I was a child, one of the biggest disputes that would arise between my parents was her sense of duty to her mother, father, and siblings.
She has always been there for not only my sister and me, but also for her siblings. When she retired, she served not only her family, but her friends at church. When someone was ill, she was there. When it was serious enough for the hospital she was there. When someone needed an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on, she was there. She shared in their sorrows and rejoiced with them in their triumphs. If someone needed a loan, she disregarded her own needs and freely give what she sometimes didn’t have to give.
My mother has always been a giver. In the last few years my mother has become the receiver. My sister, my nieces, my nephews, and even my great nephew and I have become the givers. It continues to be an educational and rewarding experience.
But it’s an every changing experience. My mother has dementia. She is happy to be with us. She enjoys our company. She loves being with her grandchildren, She adores her great grandson, Henry. But her connection with us has changed. She is no longer the dominant force in our life. She is not the one we go to for advice and comfort.
My sister is her main caregiver. She works a full time job. So far she has been able to coordinate between her and her children to make sure that our mother is not left alone. My sister and I have tried to divide up the responsibility between us. My sister and I have become our mother to each other. Now my sister seeks me out for advice and comfort and I seek her out for the same.
Our hope is that our mother travels this path with grace and dignity and without fear. But what my sister and I have become is my mother’s protector and advocate. Where my mother use to be the mother bear ready to spring and protect her cubs, now my sister and I have taken on that role for her.
Occasionally drama and bickering find their way into my mother’s presence. Fortunately, this doesn’t come from her immediate family. The ones who have been there for her the last few years. What we’ve decided as a family is that we will no longer allow that to happen. She is our number one priority and that includes her happiness, safety, and peace of mind. My mother no longer does well on the phone. She does great face to face. But I think on the phone she loses track of who she is talking to.
Mom has always been busy. So we try to keep her busy. She likes to go. Whether it’s shopping, eating out, or checking out the thrift stores. She still likes being out in the world.
She would love to hear from you. While a phone call may no longer be the best way to connect with her, she loves to visit. So call my sister or me and set up a time. I know she would love to open her door and see your face. Send her cards and pictures of your family and yourself.
Have my sister and I made mistakes? Certainly. But the one thing that we do acknowledge is that dementia doesn’t get better. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. We only know that when Mom wakes up with a smile on her face, everything is going to be okay for today.
What we have found in navigating this life changing illness is that people suddenly disappeared from her life. At first this made me angry. Just knowing how she has always been there for others. But fortunately her world revolves around whoever she is spending time with that day. So she is happy. And that’s what matters most.