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.
On a trail run this week, I encountered two women blocking the narrow single-track path. “There’s a rattlesnake up ahead,” one whispered. “Coiled and ready to strike.”
Snakes on an Arizona trail aren’t unusual. But normally there’s no advance warning. I leap over them, the surge of adrenaline fueling me forward.
It’s not always like this.
My caregiving life involves planning: appointments, activities, lunch dates. But as a writer, in the increasing moments when I release outcomes to the Universe with all the magic of a child blowing bubbles in the wind, I can write fearlessly, submitting stories formerly challenged by self-doubt; joining a writing class that before had seemed an unattainable goal; summoning the courage to participate in a reading of my work.
A few years ago, my teenage nieces dared me to jump off the ferry pier on the island where my father lives. It was a long drop from wharf to water, the cold Atlantic churning below. Unthinking, I dove in.
Sometimes, life is like this.