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 disregard 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.
My family, like lots of other families, began learning about Alzheimer’s this past year. My mother is most fortunate to have a tight knit family that surrounds her. She has had her ups and downs this year. But the downs have been few, but they can be intense. My sweet sister is in a position to live with my mom and she has dealt with most of these downs on her own. She and I and all of my nieces and nephews work well together.
This Christmas week started off with a call from Chase bank on Tuesday about my mother’s checking account. Apparently someone tried to use her debit card information to make a purchase either over the phone or on the internet. It was declined and the bank deactivated her debit card. That upset her.
She took some money out of her checking account last weekend. When she woke up Christmas Eve morning she couldn’t find the money. She became very upset because she thought she didn’t have any Christmas gifts for us. My sister took her to the tree and showed her the presents from my mom to all of us.
This unsettled her, she realized (again) that she has Alzheimer’s and that she will not get better. My sister had to work Christmas Eve and suggested that I call her later in the day to check on her. Right now my mother is still in a position that she is fine on her own for short periods of time.
When I called her later in the day she sounded a little befuddled and down. As we talked her mood seemed to change. She was still concerned about the money that she had misplaced. I told her not to worry about it, that it would show up. Then I changed the subject to us all getting together the next day. This lifted her spirits. Nothing pleases her more than being surrounded by her family. Especially her great grandson, Henry.
When we arrived at her house Christmas day she was in good spirits. As her gifts were handed out she watched to see what was in the boxes as they were opened. But she said nothing. She was sitting next to me as I was handed her gift. I looked at her and asked “What did you get me?” She laughed and shrugged her shoulders. I said “It will be a surprise for both of us!” and she laughed.
She watched with interest as I opened the gift. She genuinely didn’t know what was in the box. When I opened it, there was a case for my crochet hooks, a Jo-Ann’s gift card, and a jar of buttons. When she saw the jar of buttons, she shouted happily, “I bought those!!”
She remembered buying the buttons with my sister at the antique store. I know she received help in selecting my gifts. But my mother’s love and thoughtfulness still make me cry.