“We should talk about what we’re doing for Mother’s Day next weekend,” my mother-in-law innocently asks me & my husband. I smile, half-paying attention as I know I have to work that weekend.
The reminder sends me out on a quest. I go out to find a Mother’s Day card and gift. I search for a card I can send to my own mom. One card after another fail. Too small text. Too many words. Confusing imagery. I just need something simple and colorful. My mom has dementia. I don’t want to confuse her. I need big bold text. Ah, there it is! I find a hot pink neon card with brightly decorated colored flowers and three simple words “Happy Mother’s Day”- Happy, huh…
I mail out the simple bright card, licking a cardinal themed Forever stamp, then I pause, staring at my mom’s still new to me address. I picture her caretaker handing the envelope to my mom. I picture her smiling and placing the hastily opened card on her nightstand.
I picture all this, smiling too, then later that evening I find myself cuddled under my bed sheets crying. I’m no longer picturing mom enjoying her Mother’s Day card. I’m no longer picturing the joy, the promise of Happiness that this Hallmark holiday promises to bring. I feel sad. Really sad. And that’s OK.
I picture mom before the MS and dementia nesting in her new Florida home. I sweetly remember how I cooked her meals and cleaned her house, arranging her closets and pantry. I longingly and painfully remember what it felt like to be my mom’s caretaker, the good and the bad, and I’m missing all of it’s messiness terribly. I’m missing her, the mom of my childhood and the mom of my early and late 20’s. And I’m sorry, but not sorry, that I’m sad.
I ask my hubby for extra hugs as I mourn and grieve, though my mom is still alive. Nancy Berns sums up this strange yet ugly experience nicely. “We may be grieving this Mother’s Day even if our mom is alive. If our mom has Alzheimer’s or dementia, it can leave us wondering what happened to the mom we always knew. She is here but also gone, and this type of “ambiguous loss” can be incredibly painful to grieve (a great book on this subject is Loving Someone Who Has Dementia: How to Find Hope While Coping with Stress and Grief by Pauline Boss, 2011).
My advice to friends and family who know someone in a similar situation is simply to let them grieve. Offer hugs and your sleeves so they can wipe tear filled snot all over them. If they’re in a brain fog, offer them tea and chocolate or whatever their uplifting beverage & treat choice may be. But asking if they are OK is honestly not the best question. You already know the answer. Instead, show support through simple and meaningful actions.
“When Mother’s Day Is Not Happy.” Nancy Berns Ph.D. 2013
“It’s Okay to be Sad on Mother’s Day” Hedi Di Santo. 2015.
“Is Mother’s Day Sad for You?” Barbara Jacoby. 2016.
“Celebrating Mother’s Day When Mom has Dementia” Marc Nowak. 2016.
“How it Feels to Not Have a Mom on Mother’s Day” Madison Tate. 2015.