Dementia Families: We Accept that Our Lives are Different

Are you tempted to compare yourself to other people? Last week I almost made the mistake of comparing Mom’s 75th birthday event to other people’s parties. But that’s unwise. Having a mom with dementia means that our family experiences are always different. Mom is unique and her illness makes our lives distinct.

Between the Pond and the Woods

It was challenging to organize a gathering that would truly feel like a celebration. Many of our friends haven’t seen Mom since her condition began to slide. I felt the need to prepare people for the big changes that have occurred: the wheelchair, the lack of speech, the chronic sleeping. I have come to view these things as normal. But for most people they aren’t normal at all. Guests needed to understand that they would not be visiting the person they knew before.

Despite many logistical challenges, and the stress of making a party right after Christmas, I was happy with the way things turned out. Old friends came to visit, some neighbors brought their children. A few guests we barely knew showed up to help us celebrate. Mom wasn’t too, too alert. But she was aware that the candles and Happy Birthday song were meant for her. One of the sweetest scenes of the evening was our neighbor’s eight-year-old daughter blowing out the candles to help Mom. That was the signal to get out the handkerchiefs.

Given the choice, I’d do it all over again. You could feel so much love for Mom in that room. Even when their words have been erased, people with dementia retain a strange ability to sense the feelings of those around them. Although she was exhausted, Mom went to bed smiling that night. As for me, I was totally fried, but definitely pleased as I surrendered to sleep.

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