Ties that Bind

We were both only children, John and I, united as siblings in our pre-teens when his mother married my father. For while, I chose this family, mirroring my father’s departure as I left my childhood island home and my mother on her own.

But, like so much of the future I envisioned for myself, this idyllic second family was as transient as I. At sixteen, I moved in with a boyfriend and soon after, my father and stepmother divorced.

John and I have stayed close all these years. We’ve shared our own divorce woes, visited each other across countries and continents. We spend summers together at the family lake house; I’ve watched my nieces go from cartoons to college.

John has also kept in touch with my father, the man who raised him. He’s nearing his nineties, insistent on living alone in his island cottage. He still drives, although his macular degeneration worsens each year.

Over the past five years, I’ve spent more time with my parents in the than I have in my entire life, and what I’ve found is this: it’s easier to be patient toward a mother with Alzheimer’s than a father who, in his ruthless determination to be terminally unique, is stubborn and quirky to a fault. He recalls very vehicle he’s ever owned in vivid detail. He prefers befriending the mice in his house to a visit from the exterminator. Often, his dinners consist of dark chocolate and a handful of peanuts.

Recently, John and I took our father on a riverboat cruise along the Seine. At first, I was a basket case. Dad complained. A lot. He slept through the whole excursion to Normandy. His breathing was as labored as a freight train going uphill. It took a week aboard that ship and John’s patient reassurances that I was a good daughter to finally accept my father for who he is.

Like the recent death of my husband’s daughter, I’m doing my best with a situation I’ve never been through: being a parent to my parents. Although his legs may be slower than his thoughts, my father’s mind is still razor-sharp.

And for that, we’re all grateful. 

Little White Lies

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.

Not Guilty!

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.