My own mother is suffering from Lewy Body Dementia. While I am of course blessed that she still recognizes me, sadly, we can't have meaningful conversations any more. I miss being able to share with her. In fact, I find visiting her to be a painful experience. Heroic nurses and staff feed, dress and change diapers for residents who are often somewhat combative, terrified or non-present. If this world were all that exists, suffering from dementia would hardly seem like a fitting reward for having lived a long life.
So, what does Mother's Day mean to me? It is a mixture of counting one's blessings and realizing the fragility of life. Celebration and mourning, contradictory emotions, are experienced simultaneously. It's enough to leave me a little disoriented. But, Mother's Day also stimulates me to wax philosophically.
We all realize that love is not enough to prevent the loss of those closest to us. I try to imagine my mother's experience of losing her mother as a teen. In comparison, I have been very fortunate. Generation after generation build a loving connection with their mothers. But loss is inevitable. Perhaps that is what makes love such a precious blessing as we are reminded not to take what we have for granted.
When I look around the residence where my mother now lives, I also can't help but wonder what it is that makes us who we are. You see frail old people sitting or lying around each other but each is in their own world. They have many years behind them filled with accomplishment and challenge. Yet, they are only a fraction of who they used to be. The physical shell and the voice are still there. But the person you love is no longer completely inhabiting this body. Why is that? Is the answer as simple to describe as when the brain, as an organ breaks down, it's personality no longer exists? People disappear percentage by percentage. Or, maybe the brain is akin to a radio that allows the soul to broadcast in this world? Religious conviction helps me to deal with a situation that I don't want to believe. How can something as awesome as a person, in this case the mother who gave me life and raised me, not exist forever?
On Mother's Day we like to give back to our mothers. This way they can experience and enjoy their children acknowledging all that they have received and say, "Thank you, Mom." It is also very apropos to acknowledge gratitude to God who has placed people who love you in your life.
In my work, I speak to many people who haven't had the loving mothers they needed. I see that they experience so much pain and many limitations that continue throughout their lives. If your mother has been loving to you, then you really do have so much to be grateful for. Even more so if she is in good health and you continue to enjoy her presence, however minimal, in your life.
Likely, your first experience of love was with your mother (nothing Freudian implied). Hopefully, you have also had a loving and involved father. Your capacity to love and form a solid relationship draws so much from those first people who taught you what love is. As you look at your mother, even if she can no longer reminisce with you, you can still get a glimpse of all that she has given to you. Did you learn to cook or bake while sharing time together in the kitchen? Are emotions elicited when you think back to those delicious aromas coming? Did she do homework with you or teach you to drive? Whatever your memories are, as long as they are positive ones, cherish them.
If you still have your mother fully present, please realize how precious each moment is. For those who have lost their mother, memories are what remain. And for those whose mother is suffering from dementia, try to enjoy what remains of your mother's being.
I would like to add something on a more positive note for those who can't celebrate Mother's Day the way they wish they could. When my father passed away, I realized something that I still think is very profound. In a way, how we look at the world, who we associate with and how we see ourselves is as if our parents have downloaded themselves into us. We really carry them with us in many meaningful ways. We can bring them honor by being the spouses and parents that they always wished we would be.
I am obviously not a mother. But I strive to create the bonds and to share the principles with my sons that I think are so valuable in life. A hug and a kiss do wonders to convey what life is all about. If you are a mother or father yourself, make sure that your children will be able to be thankful for having learned from you.
Happy Mother's Day.
Jasmine Miller, of Alzlive, has some wonderful suggestions for celebrating Mother's Day when your mother has Alzheimer's or Dementia.