Mother’s Day would have been a happy day for many families. I spent the day with my son and his girlfriend and my gorgeous new granddaughter. We had a lovely lunch and we skyped my Mum in the afternoon. Across the generations, we were in touch.
For many people, however, Mother’s Day is tinged with sadness. A friend of mine’s mother died just 6 weeks ago. Her grief is raw. In this coming year, she will experience the intense pain of all the ‘firsts’ without her Mum: the first birthday, anniversary, Easter, summer holiday, Christmas – the traditional family occasions when her mother’s absence will be acutely felt and noticed. On Sunday it was her first Mother’s Day.
When a relative has dementia, the grief process is complicated. Relationships change and are continually re-defined. The person with dementia experiences multiple losses, so too the carer. Adult child carers often speak about ‘role-reversal’, characterised by responsibilities formerly carried by the parent being transferred to the adult child. One carer I spoke to recently summed up her situation, ‘My mother cared for me and my brother when we were small, she brought us up and she did a really good job. It’s my turn, now, to care for her, to ease her struggle with dementia and help her get to the end of her life with dignity and respect. It’s the least I can do. It’s a privilege’.
Ming Ho has written a radio play about her life with her mother with dementia: ‘The Things We Never Said’. At the time of its broadcast on Radio 4 last year, Ming reflected, “Mum won’t listen, or even know it’s on; I won’t tell her, as it will mean nothing. And yet it’s a play all about her, about “us” – the people we were, and the strangers we have become”. On her blog site (Dementia Just Ain’t) Sexy, Ming speaks about the journey of dementia as being a “journey of unknowing, the subtle, devastating difference between recognition and connection; mum and I have now drifted further apart in that bleak and lonely landscape… “.
Not everyone has a straightforward loving relationship with their mother. The impact of dementia can vary: for some adult children and their mothers, the re-balancing of the relationship helps to alleviate the problems; for others, the tensions and challenges get much worse. Residues of the pre-dementia relationship can adversely affect how an adult child carer will feel about taking on the responsibilities of caring.
Families are (in any case) complex: add in dementia and anxieties will be heightened, relationships strained. Faced with the prospect of taking on a caring role, the son or daughter might feel ambivalent, conflicted, unprepared and ill-equipped: it stands to reason that family carers in these situations will need advice, information and support.
For me, this is the time of year when I always think about my Nan. She died, aged 97, just a few days before Mother’s Day 2004. I saw her at the chapel of rest and gave her my final Mother’s Day card, placing it carefully in her coffin. I wrote some special words for her; she was a special person in my life, an inspiration and anchor. I really hope she knew.
Feel free to contact me directly via http://bit.ly/Ask-Barbara if your mother has dementia and you have concerns about how your relationship has changed, or have questions about the challenges you are facing. If you’re struggling to cope or need some practical advice, we are here to listen and to help.