Don’t Let Dementia Steal Mother’s Day

Don’t let dementia steal Mother’s Day from your family. That #mother-child bond is sacred, no matter what’s happened in the years since your birth. For the past 11 years, I’ve had to remind myself of this on every #Mother’s Day. Though not fully present, my Mom is still here and I’m grateful for the life she gave me.

Dementia Steal Mother's Day

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
by Lao Tzu

She was always tiny and cute in her whirling skirts and pixie hair cuts. My mom was a good cook but a better dancer. Although she made a mean roast beef, she was happier doing the jitter bug. My parents didn’t always get along, but they found harmony swinging through space on any dance floor. Tall, handsome dad turning pretty little mom on the fulcrum of her high-heeled shoes. Sparkly earrings on a Saturday night with the Dorsey Brothers, Sam Cooke, Doris Day, or Motown. She could dance to it all.

My mother had a lot of rules and her two daughters tried to follow them. A strange authority emanated from her small body. When we made her mad, she cried as she scolded us. The sight of her tears was far worse punishment than an afternoon stuck in our rooms.

Her greatest teachings focused on work ethic. Though she delivered forty weekly hours of effort to her boss, Mom still came home eager to tame an unruly household. Laundry, housecleaning, financial management — she excelled at all of it. Her performance standards were high. My sister and I absorbed that.

Can #Dementia Steal Mother’s day?

I feel that Mom’s efficiency must have cost her something. At what point does #dementia sneak in? How does it find you? Why does it pursue you so slowly, so relentlessly? The disease raises a hundred unanswerable questions. But it’s taught me at least one thing: While dementia may erase their memories, it has no claim on yours. As long as a mother is alive — and well after she’s left this earthly plane — you can commit yourself to cherishing the things you value about them. You can remember who they were and what they did to plant you in this world of boundless possibility.

I have to finish here and cry a while before I go to observe Mother’s Day with my mom. She’s tinier than ever, folded like a paper doll into a giant, deluxe wheelchair. Now I call her my Origami Mommy. She’s cute as ever, nearly silent, yet somehow still aware of the charm she exerts in this world. God bless her and all the mothers silenced by dementia and other grave illnesses. May we all draw solace from the gifts they gave us so long ago.

The Power of Memory

The power of memory may seem puny if you’re caring for someone with #dementia, Words, plans, and even regrets just disappear. Yet there are moments when a song, a smell or a taste can quickly spark some hint of the past. Smell an #Easter#lily or a hyacinth and you’ll know what I mean.

The Power of Memory

I attended church every Sunday as a child. We were not allowed to skip a service unless we had mumps, measles or some other serious disease.  Our town was small, but it was filled with places of worship. There were Slovak, Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian churches. A tiny Jewish synagogue sat next to my elementary school. A large Roman Catholic parish, with its own school, was just one block away. My parents took us to church so we’d develop a strong moral compass. They also made us feel that membership in a faith community was part of our identity.

We belonged to a Lutheran church, which had no ethnic affiliation. The congregation included families with German, English, Irish, Welsh and Dutch roots. Our lives were tied together by the belief that religious commitment is an active matter. Faith wasn’t something proclaimed from a pulpit. It was something we did by donating food for the homeless or visiting elders who couldn’t get out.

Our church was built from hewn blocks of grey granite. Every Sunday the altar was decorated with tall bouquets of flowers. Families donated additional plants to fill the front of the church on holidays. Easter was special. Dozens of lilies filled the air with a mesmerizing scent.

Easter was always a big holiday for us because we each got a new spring dress. We wore our pastel clothes to church with a fresh pair of shoes. Often they squeezed our feet because they were stiff and new. We had to scuff them on the sidewalk to add a little friction to the soles.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten many details of childhood, but those memories are still magnetic. When I try to think of ways to engage my mother, I often fall back to songs we sang in church. I don’t have a great voice but I can still sing a few verses. Her eyes tell me the tunes are familiar.

The power of Memory = the sense of smell

I picture my mother wearing a short pink dress with a scalloped neckline. Her dress matched my sister’s and mine. We all carried small purses. My father, who had a tremendous voice, sang solos from the front of the church. The smell of lilies buoyed each musical note like a fragrant mist. That scent is imprinted in our minds. It’s an invisible code that time hasn’t erased.

At this point, language has deserted my mother. She can’t tell me what she remembers or enjoys.  But when I push her wheelchair close to the white flowers that proclaim the arrival of spring, her eyes open wide. Scientists say that smell is the first sense developed by humans. Judging from my mother’s reaction, it may also be the last to go.

When I hold a lily close to my mother’s nose, the power of memory seems even stronger than #dementia. Our brains are mysterious enough to baffle the greatest scientific minds. At times I feel my mother’s brain has betrayed her. Yet in these odd moments when a smell sparks the light in her eyes, I’m amazed at what her mind can still do.

If I’m lucky enough to grow old, I hope these intense sense memories don’t desert me. I hated wearing those stiff new shoes, but I can’t feel them at all when I close my eyes and remember all the lilies.