When your mother gets dementia, many aspects of life decline. There is no way to swim around the waves of pain churned up by the disease. But now and then, dementia reveals things that are helpful, even rewarding. We’d never want to say thank you, but Mother’s Day is a good time to consider these strange gifts.
For many years, my mother had only one face. She was 100% effort and diligence. Her house was clean. Her clothes were organized. Once a week she went to the beauty parlor to get her hair done. This image of my first mom — my true mom — gazes back at me from photographs. I can see how her shoes matched her dress, how her waistline stayed slim. The pictures show how well she organized everything around her to keep life running smoothly — not just for her, but for our whole family.
My personality is not like hers, and I never felt that I could measure up to her high standards of efficiency. It was impossible for me to see the other qualities she kept from public view. Mom was so quick and effective, it was hard to believe there might be something vulnerable in there.
Dementia has erased most of my original mother and put a new one in her place. It’s not a gift you’d ever ask for, but I try hard to accept the changing face of Mom. She is still a good mother. But good in a way that requires patience to understand. She can’t express herself or take care of herself. But she retains some essence of pure love that resists the cruelty of the disease. This feature of new Mom is gentle in a way my first mother couldn’t always be. She is defenseless in a way true Mom would have hated. New Mom is generous — but this part of her is consistent. Old Mom was always generous. She worked very hard to make sure we had what we needed. In fact, she often indulged us.
I hate the fact that we can’t have a Mother’s Day celebration in the old style. We used to take her to a high-end restaurant and Mom would wear one of the silk scarves that are now piled in my closet. We laughed through so many Mother’s Day meals, relishing our freedom to be happy and the delight we took in each other’s company. I do miss that old Mom. As I write these words, I long to visit those places all over again.
But I also love this other mother, the one whose eyes remain bright despite her blindness. The one who laughs even when no one is making a joke. Sometimes I wonder how she summons the strength to get through a day. Yet I am enchanted by this mother who is now so small she seems about to splinter. This is my child mom, my baby mom, my little friend who knows my voice but not my name. I am truly grateful that she is still with us. I hope that despite your trials, all of you can find some quality that has been revealed by your mother’s transformation — something that’s still there to remind you of the treasure inside. Happy Mother’s Day.