I remember the three Mother’s Days I spent with my mother when she was suffering from vascular dementia.
It was hard for her by this time to process what a holiday meant exactly. She was able to smile and was astute enough to “fake it” but Mother’s Days and birthdays were hard for both of us.
It was easy for me to get sad realizing that my mother almost couldn’t put together what it meant anymore to be my mother. I had become hers, really. The last two years, she was in an assisted living facility, which helped. The skilled social workers knew just how to make the day special without trying to force her to remember what the holiday meant exactly.
Now on Mother’s Day, since my mother passed in 2019, I honor her the way I used to when she was suffering from dementia.
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Rather than concentrate on what I didn’t have as my mother was slipping away, I focused on what we had together. I had become my mother’s memory by now anyway and had learned to not try to make her realize what Mother’s Day meant, but rather enjoy a special day with her while she was with me. And tell myself how lucky I was to be her daughter.
Here are some of my suggestions for honoring a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia on Mother’s Day.
My mom loved tap dancing and movies that had tap dancers. She would love to see them. So I would gather a bunch of those types of movies on my iPad and we’d sit and watch “42nd Street” and “Singing in the Rain.” She might not have remembered the movies exactly, but she loved to see the people singing and dancing.
My mother never had a sweet tooth, but she enjoyed a chocolate cupcake now and then. So we had cupcakes together. Or you can get your mother her favorite comfort food. (Some patients have dietary restrictions, so, of course, stay within those if you should.)
I had a photo book I had made of pictures of the two of us on trips to New York and Boston and Las Vegas and other places around the world. The book was just of the two of us. Rather than saying, “Don’t you remember when we went here?” I would tell her stories about the places we went. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients still understand and they do get frustrated when someone says “Do you remember?” I just kept it to stories about the places we went. Talked to her about what Broadway looked like, when I went to school in Boston, when we saw shows in Las Vegas.
I also learned that things that soothed my mother made her less anxious about not precisely knowing what was going on around her. I held her hands and rubbed lovely smelling lavender creme on them.
She also loved to have her nails done, so I made arrangements with the woman in the beauty salon at the assisted living to have her nails done that week. (My mother had perfect nails until the day she passed away in November of 2019.)
Believe me, it is hard to keep the tears from coming on Mother’s Day when your mother is with you but not exactly present, but I was grateful to still have her with me.
But after I would spend my day with her, I would honor myself.
I’d go shopping and buy myself something I wanted and not feel guilty about the price.
I’d make myself my favorite dinner at home. (Going out to eat was tough since everyone was celebrating Mother’s Day.)
I gave myself a big hug for being my mom’s advocate and treasured all the times she told me, even in the days her memory was at its worst, “What would I do without you?”
The Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline (800-272-3900) is available around the clock, 365 days a year. Through this free service, specialists and master’s-level clinicians offer confidential support and information to people living with dementia, caregivers, families and the public.