Tag Archives: Parent

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


How To Handle Significant Dates, Significant People: I Have No Idea

One of the challenges we face as caregivers is how to handle conversations about significant names and dates that are painful for our loved ones. Outsiders and well-meaning friends might say, “Just never bring it up,” but it’s not always that easy. It’s inevitable that we’ll have difficult conversations about family members who have gone before us. And it’s inevitable that a loved one will realize, time and time again, for the first time, that significant people in his/her life are gone.

Shortly after my father’s May 2008 stroke, he often asked where his parents were. Each time he asked, I’d respond by telling him they’d passed away. This would send him into a crying jag where he’d  hold his head and go on about what a horrible son he must have been if he couldn’t remember his parents were dead. It was painful to experience, painful to watch and painful to realize how much it was hurting him to find out that his loved ones were dead. The fact that each time I told him he was, in his own mind, hearing the news for the first time made me realize I had to rethink how to handle these situations.

These conversations are inevitable though. Experts suggest having visual reminders of your loved one’s life available for them to see every day. Unless we withhold pictures of dead loved ones, there’s no way around it. Unless your loved one has absolutely no memory of significant people in his/her life, there’s no way around it. So how do you deal with it?

I haven’t figured it out yet.

This topic is especially meaningful for me because today would be my mother’s 84th  birthday. Mom died in 1974 after a rough battle with colon cancer. Dad was understandably devastated by mom’s early death. For as long as I can remember he said, “I married my sweetheart. I’ll never marry again.” He dated, but he kept his word and never remarried.

What often happens on days like this is that, even though my father’s vision has declined so much he’s nearly blind, he senses things about me.  He also seems to have body memory around significant dates. Add to this the fact that I named my oldest daughter after my mother and I named my youngest daughter after my sister Shirley, who died at the ripe old age of 27, it’s really hard to avoid these conversations.

For some time, whenever I referred to either of my daughters by name, my father’s eyes would widen and he’d look around. “Where is mommy? Why won’t she visit me? Is she mad?” That was heartbreaking. I had to tell him she was dead because if he thought she was alive and not visiting, wouldn’t that have hurt him more? So now, whenever I refer to my children I call them my daughters, the girls, or “my little ones, Joy and Shirlee,” in the hopes of avoiding reminding him that his wife is dead.

Some days I wonder if my father remembers any of his family because he asked about anybody for some time. I also try to limit my references to them and, frankly, that’s become easier since we spend more time sitting together in silence than we do talking. However, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if today was the day he asked questions. I wouldn’t be surprised if he reacted to hearing me saying something as simple as, “Joy, will you hand me a napkin, please?”

So, there’s a very good chance that if I visit him today he will be in a bad mood or he will sense that something is bothering me, or that hearing my daughter’s name will fire something in his old memory banks and he’ll think of his wife. I just never know what the trigger will be for him. But you can bet, if we do go visit dad, I will probably work hard not to use the word joy in any context just out of sheer avoidance. I guess we’ll just muddle through as we always do.

I obviously don’t have the perfect answer for how to handle these conversations, but I do have something to say. Be compassionate, understanding, and emotionally honest. There’s no way of controlling your loved one’s recall or reactions. They change from day to day. Do your best to avoid showing judgment. Try not to let it get to you and, please, never lead your loved one to feeling guilty for lack of memory or reactions to memories. Because, the truth of the matter is, dementia will eventually beat out the remaining memories of significant people and dates.

And I’m still not sure which is worse: remembering, over and over again for the first time, that they’ve lost people they loved or not remembering their loved ones at all.


In honor of JHP, JR., retired Attorney-At-Law, who taught me to CYA, I offer readers the following disclaimer:
Please do not mistake any of the information on My Father Doesn’t Know Me as medical or therapeutic advice. All of the information contained in this site is based on Lucy Parker Watkins’ experiences, personal research and advice she received during the course of her father’s treatment for dementia.