This post has little to do with cryptids. Okay, it has nothing to do with cryptids, but I couldn’t help myself. Mother’s Day is coming and there’s something on my mind. If you have a mother, grandmother, or someone you love who is suffering from Alzheimer’s/dementia, or if your relationship with your mother or daughter is broken, then Mother’s Day is tough. If you’re up for it, I’d like to share an experience that might help.
When Mom doesn’t remember Me…
When I worked in long-term care, I facilitated a reminiscence group once or twice a month in the Memory Care Unit for those who lived with various kinds of dementia. Sounds a little cruel, doesn’t it? Reminiscing? But this wasn’t a group to share memories in word form. Its purpose was to draw out pleasant emotions that had attached themselves to memories. In fact, the group should have been called ‘the positive reminders group,’ because my goal was to remind these individuals of who they were in a completely positive environment. Even if I wasn’t able to tap a vein of familiarity, the participants still had fun interacting. The group was a win-win.
I’d worked with people living with Alzheimer’s long enough to know that memories are not words. Sometimes, they are not even mental pictures. They are experiences that have been encoded and stored in our brains. Often times, memories are associated with the senses–the sight of child playing, the smell of a perfume, the touch of a cobweb, the sound of screen door slamming (one of my favorite acoustical items was a Zippo lighter. If your parents smoked, then you know the pinging sound of the lid opening and closing. After it opens, you automatically anticipate the thumb rolling over the flint three or four times. There is a slight smell of lighter fluid, and then a flame pops into action). But not all memories are attached to one of the five senses. Some memory associations are semantic–the memory is based more on context and meaning. I learned the truth in this when I decided to highlight mothers one May in the reminiscence group.
As usual, I started the sessions with an item like a song, nursery rhyme, or famous poem. One that repeated the word ‘mother.’ Then we played a game. I can’t remember which one, but it was probably something like “guess the sound.” I would tap a spoon on a cast iron skillet or pop open a tin, or play the recording of some other familiar sound. Then I allowed them to guess. (Older folks love trivia, and they’re good at it. If someone was hard of hearing, I always explained what was going on. Inclusiveness, whether they could play the game or not, made all the difference <:-) my little soap-box tid bit>). Once they guessed the item, I allowed the group to see and touch the item, if applicable. We’d talk about food cooked in a cast iron skillet (and how much better it tasted, especially when mom made it). I learned that potatoes are a favorite topic. Everyone has eaten potatoes. A lot. “Mother peeled a lot of potatoes. Mother made mashed potatoes, fried potatoes, etc.” With these games, there was a lot of repetition of the word ‘mother.’ Why? You’ll see.
I moved on to visual items. Familiar images of mother’s performing various tasks–an image of a mother hanging clothes on the line was popular for my age group as was sewing and mending clothes. Tactile items included clothespins, buttons, spools of thread, coffee beans, etc.
As I went through the various items, I noticed that every time I said the word ‘mother,’ most of the participants smiled. While they couldn’t remember her name, what she looked or smelled like, they still felt the unique emotion of mother-love. It’s one of the oldest, most familiar emotions that live inside of us.
Being the child (or loved-one) of a person with Alzheimer’s is brutal and unfair, but let me assure you, if your mother doesn’t recognize you on the outside, she recognizes you emotionally. The mother-child bond outlasts all other memories and it is very real. Use your time together to remind her of who she was. Use the senses, talk about favorite chores, food, hobbies, etc. Always use a statement. Avoid questions unless they involve potatoes ;-). Tapping into the bond she had with her mother, will remind her of the bond she has with you.
When Mom and I Don’t See Eye to Eye…
As we’ve been working our way toward Mother’s Day, I’ve been blending this post with some excerpts from my e-book No Longer Alone. While No Longer Alone is primarily a romance, the story is also about a mother and daughter who struggle with a broken relationship. In the backstory, a deathbed revelation hardens the mother’s heart, causing her to grow distant from her daughter. Regrets and unspoken feelings fuel their conflict until sixteen-year-old Lola must decide if she wants to give up on the relationship or risk rejection as she attempts to repair it. Here, she explains a bit of what living with her grandmother was like.
Lola lowered herself to the ground, pulled up her knees, and rested her forehead against them. She felt, rather than saw, Chase sit beside her. The tree was old, and the big, knobby, above-ground roots fit them both comfortably and kept them out of the mud and weeds.
“How long have those tears been building?”
“A long time.”
“I know about your mom’s miscarriage and the depression, but something happened at your grandma’s. You weren’t the same when you came back.”
“Grandma didn’t want me there, and she kept calling me Martina.”
“Your mom’s name?”
“It was like Grandma only remembered the bad things Mom had done.” Lola rubbed her eyes, hating the memories. But crying helped diffuse the emotion. She definitely felt better. “Have you ever read Great Expectations?”
“No. Isn’t that Shakespeare?”
She furrowed her brow. “Dickens. Anyway, Grandma was like one of the characters named Ms. Havisham. Stuck in time. Only Grandma wasn’t just stuck in time, she was stuck in an alternate universe. She’d wake me up in the middle of the night and make me take all the canned goods out of the cupboard and stack them in the center of the table. Then she’d get mad because there wasn’t any split pea soup. She accused me of hiding it.”
A laugh spilled out of Chase. “Sorry.”
“Funny now, but it wasn’t at the time. Some nights, she’d take all the silverware out of the drawers and hide it in the couch cushions and under the mattresses. When I found a butcher knife under her bed, I waited until she took a nap then buried all the knives and scissors in the backyard.”
“Geeze, that’s something you’d see in a horror movie. What’d your mom and dad say?”
“I didn’t tell them because I was afraid they’d send me somewhere even worse. At least Grandma had a big yard in the country. Most of the time, I played out there.”
“Who took care of the place and made sure you went to school?”
“Grandma. She was fine during the day. My aunt lived nearby, but the one time I told my aunt about the canned goods, she asked if anyone was hurt. When I said no, she gave me this disgusted look and told me to stop being selfish. She said my mom needed time to heal, and I needed to suck it up and be grateful I had a place to stay.”
Chase pulled up his knees and draped his forearms over them. “If they’d known, my parents would never have let that happen to you. Did you ever tell your parents?”
Lola cast a quick glance at Chase. She had to look horrid with a blend of mud and dried tears on her face.
“Grandma kept getting worse. I begged Dad to bring me home. Finally, after three years, he did. A month later, Grandma fell down the basement stairs. She died a short time later. My aunt has never forgiven Mom and Dad. And, in a small way, I think Mom blames me, too. So no, I never told them.”
Regrets are the worst and Lola’s mom is struggling with a lot of them because she distanced herself from her mother. Lola’s mom wasn’t there at the end to “finish business”. Now, it’s hard to move beyond the emotional pain, so she copes by isolating and pushing others away. Until either Lola or her mom give up the hope of a different past, there’s no moving forward.
If your mother is living, and she has raised you in a loving environment, giving it her best, don’t forget to thank her this Sunday. As a former grief counselor and long-term care social worker, I’ve learned that one of life’s deepest regrets is not saying thank you when you had the chance. I met a woman who’d lost most of her family members to a hereditary form of Alzheimer’s Disease. When I asked what advice she might have for the members of my Alzheimer’s support group, she said, “Say what you need to say.”
I think this applies even if our relationships aren’t good. Some relationships are toxic and we have to keep our distance, but we should talk honestly and respectfully about the way we feel. Why? Because it gets it out of our head. Sometimes it’s easier to gain perspective when the words are out in the open. Apologize if you need to, and remember that forgiving is not the same as condoning.
Remember John Mayer’s song, “Say”? Here’s a lyrical video if you aren’t familiar with it:
I hope you enjoyed this post. If so, give me a like and please share it with someone you know who might benefit from the content. Mother’s Day can be a tough time for some people. As always, thank you for reading.
Don’t forget about our giveaway.
In honor of Mother’s Day, we are giving away a $25 gift card from Lowe’s. This is where we buy most of our flowers or simply browse to enjoy the sight. Of course, you can use the gift card however you like. All you need to do is sign up for our “Newsletter and Updates” in the sidebar. If you’re already a subscriber, your name is in the pot. If you’ve won a prize from us in the past, you’re not eligible this time. Sorry. You must be 18 years or older and live in the United States for this giveaway, but you can still download the ebook. That’s available for free to anyone. We’ll draw a name on Mother’s Day and announce it in the May newsletter that will come out shortly after Mother’s Day. Complete giveaway guidelines can be found here.
Do you have plans for this weekend?
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Drop me a line on the comment page. Besides a word of encouragement, I’m also a pretty good listener.