Mother’s Day: Damned If Ya’ Do, Damned If Ya’ Don’t

Whether it’s a Hallmark holiday or a religious holiday, I have yet to meet a family who’s facing a loved one’s dementia diagnosis that doesn’t have some reservations about holiday celebrations. In my situation, the big religious and national holidays aren’t as challenging as they once were because JHP, JR no longer remembers he hated them. Nowadays, I really dread the Hallmark holidays. Mother’s Day may be the worst one of all.

I’m confident there are a number of other caregivers out there debating how to handle Mother’s Day with their loved ones this year. The reality is holidays such as this often remind dementia patients that their parents, or spouses, are dead. Whether it comes back to them because the day’s celebrations serve as reminders of these long-gone loved ones or because they just happen to remember these people died, this Hallmark holiday can be surprisingly challenging.

What’s a family to do?

I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that out myself.

JHP, JR and his mother, 1923

My initial thought was to visit JHP, JR today so the girls and I can share some cake or chocolates with him. I love the thought of bringing him in on my special day. Then, I stop and think for a minute and I realize there’s a very good chance my good intentions could add a few pavers to the road to hell. Wanting to share my special day with my father may serve to make him miserable.

I can hear it now, “It’s Mother’s Day? I need to call mom.” Or “Did you get mommy something?” Then, I must decide to either carry on and say, “Oh yes!!” or “Well, Dad, they are dead.” Okay. I wouldn’t be quite that blunt. But still, it sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not because the problem with JHP, JR. and other dementia patients is that when we say “Yes I did,” they often carry the conversation further by asking more questions. In my situation, if I answer with a fib, JHP, JR will, in all likelihood, move to the next logical group of questions: “Where is she?” Why hasn’t she visited me?”

I have no doubt at least a few of us caregivers are holding up in our homes trying to decide whether or not to visit our parents today. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be a laughable damned-if-I-do-damned-if-I-don’t situation.

JHP, JR and Mom, circa 1947

The question remains. What do we do? What do family members do on days such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? Do we visit and hope for the best? Do we avoid visiting and convince ourselves that all is well? In all likelihood, someone is sure to bring our loved ones into the reality of this Hallmark holiday. In all likelihood, especially if they live in a facility such as a nursing home, our parents will figure out the significance of the day.

God forbid caregivers think, “Oh. Wait. When I wish Mrs. Jones a happy Mother’s Day, that might remind her and all the people around her that it’s Mother’s Day…which might remind her and all those other people around her that they forgot to do something for their mothers….which might cause her and all those other people around her to ask about their mothers…which might lead me to being in a situation where I can either lie or break the news that their parents died a few decades ago…which may lead to an entire group of patients realizing their parents are dead…which will make them all sad…which will make them very sad.

I know that sounds uber-dramatic, and maybe it is. Again, it’s almost laughable. For many family caregivers, however, it’s the sad reality they face every single holiday. Don’t get me wrong,  I appreciate facilities wanting to help their charges celebrate special days. I get it. I really do. Even the best facilities are also in the damned-if-they-do-damned-if-they-don’t situation because if they don’t acknowledge the day some family member will moan and groan because their parents aren’t being honored. It’s enough to make me want to scream-laugh.

I won’t lie and say there isn’t a part of me that doesn’t want to completely shelter JHP, JR and every other dementia patient from this day. The thought of Dad and all those other residents remembering again, for the first time, that their parents are dead, breaks my heart. But, again, what do you do? I still have no idea.

I know I’m not the only one whose role today will probably be that of the comforting child who either lies my butt off or explains the when’s and where’s, the how’s and why’s of people long gone. I can guarantee I will do everything I can not to mention Mother’s Day because, if there’s a chance we can avoid this sadness, I want that chance! And, like so many other family members, that may mean not visiting at all. Honestly, I’m still not 100 percent certain what I will do today. As selfish as that sounds, it’s the guilt-ridden truth.

Wish me luck!

Jerome's daughter and granddaughters, 2004

…and good luck to you on your journey,

Jerome’s daughter


5 responses to “Mother’s Day: Damned If Ya’ Do, Damned If Ya’ Don’t

  1. When are you coming back. ;-). How are you?

  2. Where are you. How are you. . . . .

  3. I really do understand, too. It’s so sad. . . but it’s all in how the caregivers (whether at home or in a “facility”) deal with it. Dad did not make it to his birthday or father’s day–shocking the medical community. He passed on May 8.
    He had a series of seizures that lasted an hour (probably precipitated by lingering pneumonia from a couple weeks before?), and he was pretty much bedridden and in pain from that point on (April 30). We thought we’d lose him any moment, so mom and I began the vigil. Staff would come in quietly, put their hand on our shoulder and say something kind, or hug us and tell us stories about him.
    Mom and Dad’s 53rd anniversary was May 3. He bounced back that day, he had a great day! No one could believe how strong he became, how lively, and all the siblings were on their way. . . how would we explain it. But, then May 4 came. He continued to deteriorate.
    We lost him on May 8. It’s odd. As a kid I cried my eyes out any time I thought about losing a parent. Yet there I sat with my Dad as he took his last breath. Calmly. Quietly.
    I sat with him for a few hours until the coroner came and then the mortuary. I forgot to open a window for his spirit to escape, but I like to think I brought his spirit into the elevator and out the front door. . .
    So, hang on to every moment, celebrate it the way your heart tells you to. No one knows better than you. No one.
    And remember, these moments are fleeting. Even as sad and hard as they are, they will disappear and you will be left with those memories only. So find joy in them and smile.
    I miss holding his hand and singing to my Daddy. . .

  4. you know, now that you mentioned it, I noticed yesterday when I took Mother back to Cornerstone (in Texarkana), that the assisted living/nursing home side didn’t have ANY mention of mother’s day. It was brightly decorated for Spring as it was for Easter (the rabbits, chicks, and eggs have now disappeared), but there wasn’t anything to remind the residents of Mother’s Day. They did have a Mother’s Day tea on Friday, but that was in the Independent living side of the house and those who live on the AL side were also invited. I’ve never been to the dementia building, but I would just bet that no mention was made, so it wouldn’t upset the residents. Lucy, until you brought it up, I never would have thought about that. Very interesting!

  5. I understand the feeling… I haven’t been personally exposed to it but a dear friend lost her father a few years back. I remember her talking about commercial holidays as these and how I was careful trying not to mention Father’s Day when it was coming up, for instance.
    Wish you all well.
    And your kids are beautiful, by the way. : )

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