When I think of dementia and what it entails I think of a “living loss”. On some level, no matter what our age, we look up to our mothers for guidance and advice. It is difficult to acknowledge the changes that come with dementia. Suddenly it seemed my mother was not the mother I had known for my entire life. It was a huge loss for me and for my sisters.
My mother has been my greatest teacher. She taught me to be kind, to express gratitude and to treat all people with respect. I often remind myself of this as my mother and I journey through her dementia.
Family still means everything to Mom. She often tells me that her heart jumps out of her chest when she sees me get off the elevator. She hugs me ten times during our visit and tells me she loves me, thanking me over and over and over again for coming to visit with her. Expressing her love verbally and affectionately comes more easily as her dementia progresses.
It is a beautiful thing.
She used to be very reserved this way. There are quiet times when we simply sit and hold hands or walk together down the halls admiring the art work or the wreathes on other residents doors.
On some levels my mother is aware of her failing memory and she is embarrassed by this. I try to reassure her that it is my turn now – it is my turn to do the remembering for her. I tell her that while she may forget, I will always remind her of the special times we shared as family and the moments she still shares with my sisters and me.
I visit my mother often because even if she cannot remember the visits, but I remember them. She may forget the time I spent with her within minutes of my departure and that’s okay. But while we are together she is happy and fully present – and this is what really matters.
My mother often shares with me that in spite of her failing memory there is much to be grateful for. She is grateful that she can walk and talk and breathe easily. My mother is a gracious woman. She has always been kind and compassionate. And while there have been many losses she still exudes compassion and kindness to those around her.
Often we will pick up a coffee and take it with us as we drive around the city to all the old familiar places that still light up my mother’s eyes. We drive downtown and she points out where she used to work and where the theatres were and the clothing stores and the restaurants. And we drive to the different areas of the city where she lived throughout her life and she tells me about life back then. Her face lights up and we both smile. She reminisces about going door to door selling gladiolas as a child. About lying in the fields watching the clouds drift by. About working in her father’s store and her favourite teachers. She talks about life as a young woman and mother. She talks about my dad and how much she misses him. Sometimes I play one of her favorite CD’s when we are out driving and then we sing together. It doesn’t matter that she forgets some of the words, or that we listen to the same songs over and over again. It doesn’t matter because it makes my mom happy which in turn makes me happy.
Sometimes silence is her voice and we simply enjoy being in each other’s company.
My mother has a small white board hanging on the wall just inside of her room. As I am ready to leave after a visit I will often write a quote on the whiteboard so my mom can read it whenever she enters or leaves her room. She tells me that she reads and re-reads them often throughout the day. Perhaps it really isn’t this way but for the moment she is happy to see me writing a message and she asks me to read it to her before I leave.
Today I wrote: “A mother’s love is reflected in the eyes of her children.” Her face lit up and with heartfelt expression and she said: “That’s beautiful… thank you.”
My mother will always be a gift. She was my first true love and that will never change.