I’ve lied to my mother all my life.
As a teenager, it was all about the party.
“Can I borrow the car? My friends want to see the new Superman movie.”
(We’re going to the kegger at Barrett’s Beach)
“We’re going on a field trip at school.”
(It’s senior skip day)
Through much of my adult life, the lies were silent whispers, shrouded in alcohol.
Today I am sober. I care for a mother with Alzheimer’s, in a world of falsehoods and misperceptions.
“We’re going to Arizona for a while so I can take care of my husband.”
(You need more help than I can give. The memory care home is safe.)
“I’m so glad you’re here to help me take care of my husband.”
(His imaginary illness reminds you you’re needed and helpful).
Therapeutic lies have become our reality. Yet my decisions—once based on self—are now motivated by love. And, as every medallion marking another sobriety milestone tells me: “To thine own self be true,” I find that I am.
Here’s why experts recommend lying to someone with dementia.
I’m at the grocery store, navigating through the chaos of an afternoon before Mother’s Day: more floral arrangements than a funeral home, enough pink balloons to supply a dozen nine-year-olds’ birthday parties, greeting card racks laden with glittery sentiment, chocolate-covered strawberry display that engulfs half the produce aisle. Men and women surround me, their shopping carts loaded with sacrificial offerings to place upon the altars of the women who brought them into this world.
My own offering is modest. A small yellow orchid, beribboned in pink, to pin to her blouse. Two cookies, pink and blue icing stating “I Love you, Mom” and “Happy Mother’s Day.” A card for her collection, one of the few things she’s managed not to lose or throw out.
I will not feel guilty that I did not get her more. Last year, the rose bouquet was overturned not long after I presented it, glass shards to clean up, flowers forgotten moments later.
I will not feel guilty that I choose to take her to the special brunch in the dining room of her memory care community. Last year, the silverware at her favorite restaurant became frightening, napkins mistaken for toast.
I will not feel guilty that she lives in a memory care community. I took care of her with love and compassion for the three years I was her sole caregiver.
I will not feel guilty because I do not visit her every day. Every time I visit, our time together is special.
And I will not feel guilty because she’s already forgotten the memories from moments ago, last week, my childhood.
I am a mother to my mother and I love her unconditionally. For us, every day is Mother’s Day.
#3 in a Series on Purpose
“Is today the day I wear the Red Shirt?” Mom asks, as she does nearly every time I visit.
I don’t mind this question. Or the other millions of questions that repeat like a cassette stuck in an endless loop. After living in Alzheimer’s World for five years, the passage of time no longer matters.
What matters is the Red Shirt.
Earlier this year, we launched Yappy Care, a new program at the animal rescue where I volunteer. Twice a month, we bring a shelter dog to visit the residents at mom’s memory care home. As team captain, mom walks the dog down hallways and patios, stopping to socialize with her friends.
And she wears the Red Shirt, the official uniform of a shelter volunteer.
The Red Shirt reminds her that she has a purpose. Helping others has been a guiding principle in both our lives, a code she instilled in me at an early age. And, it reminds me that even as dementia slowly strips her soul bare, she is still capable of living a meaningful life.
As Bob DeMarco so eloquently reminds us in his Alzheimer’s Reading Room blog:
“Success is what happens to you. Purpose is what happens through you. Meaningfulness is what you give away to others.”