“I don’t know what to do about Mother’s Day,” a friend recently told me. “I used to celebrate with my mother, but Mom doesn’t really recognize me now and the holiday won’t mean anything to her.”
My friend was not alone in her dilemma: according to the Shriver Report, ten million women either have Alzheimer’s or are caring for someone with it.
I’d faced the same issue with my mom as she sank into Alzheimer’s. But I’d decided that celebrating Mother’s Day was important for me and for my family, even if Mom didn’t truly understand what was going on.
Here are three tips I devised for reducing the sadness this holiday can trigger and for substituting a celebration of renewal and connection.
Feel Your Frustration and Grief
The happy-family-candy-and-flowers Mother’s Day television commercials seemed to shout at me: “Your mother is no longer who she used to be!” That was true and a spike of sorrow stabbed at me as I mourned my “normal mom.”
Celebration: Talk about your feelings with empathetic friends; feel your grief and the frustration. Explore ways to express yourself, perhaps through journaling, collaging, stomping about. Or cocoon and immerse yourself in mournful movies and music.
Activate Your Appreciations
My mother could not complete a sensible sentence, cook a simple meal or dress herself. She did not know my name or remember any of my accomplishments or stellar qualities.
Celebration: Notice and appreciate the good in your situation. Even though Mom didn’t remember my name, she also didn’t remember any of my shortcomings. She was no longer critical of my parenting skills and no longer shy to show affection. She had a dazzling smile, a whimsical giggle and an ability to look into my eyes. She was content with who I was, whoever I was. These were qualities to celebrate.
Celebrate Yourself and Your New Relationship
Since my mom could not care for herself, I learned to care for her. Our lives wove together and we became deeply connected, as I emerged from being just a daughter to becoming an advocate, spokeswoman and historian for my mother.
Celebration: On Mother’s Day, I stopped to celebrate myself, my flexibility, my sense of humor, my steadfast feelings of responsibility. I gave myself the gift of time and appreciation.
7 Ways to Concoct a Creative Celebration
Share favorite memories
Tell her favorite life stories
List her opinions, maxims and worries
Sing along to favorite family music
Muse over family photos
Serve up easy comfort foods
Share what you’ve learned from your journey with her
Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.