When visiting Mom, I pretty much know by now what to expect before, during and after our visits.
Before, I get butterflies in my stomach, as I am excited to spend time together. After, while I have enjoyed seeing her beautiful face, embracing her loving touch as we hold hands, exchanging hugs and soaking up every time she cracks a smile and we really connect with our eyes, I know I will shed many tears on the ride home.
It's during the visit that I live in the moment.
We have a routine that consists of me approaching Mom and waiting for her to realize her daughter is here and she is so happy to see me. She will say things like, "I can't believe it; you're so beautiful.” “Stay with me,” and “I love you." These may seem rather trivial when compared to a typical mother’s reaction to seeing her children. But for a daughter who has a mother with dementia, these expressions, both verbal and facial, are treasures.
I think only those with loved ones with dementia can truly understand how powerful and dear these moments are.
Our routine continues. I bring mom to a small, quiet, cheerful visiting room where she will be able to enjoy the Fig Newtons and bottle of Coke I always bring along for her. We sing songs together and "hand dance," as I call it, since mom is confined to a wheelchair. I tell mom how all of her children, grandchildren and great grandchild are doing, and share some stories with her. Mom may not always understand everything I say, but we both enjoy talking about the family.
Time goes by so fast and soon it's dinner time. I feed mom, as she no longer can feed herself. I thought this would be awkward—a child having to spoon feed a parent may sound sad to those with healthy parents. On some level it is sad, but it is a very intimate experience for us. There is a bond that we share during meal time, similar to the bond that forms when a mother feeds her babies; the only difference is the role reversal.
It is during these visits, although we do have a routine, that I'm not sure what to expect. Some visits are good, others are bad, depending on how the disease affects mom on any particular day.
Our most recent visit did not start off well. I had been away for a short vacation and was kept away even longer by two days of severe weather. I was worried about mom, as she lives near the shoreline, and we had no internet and lost power. I was able to call the facility to make sure all was okay. Mom can no longer talk to me on the phone, but the staff assured me she was safe and doing well.
It took mom a little longer than usual to recognize me so, at that point, I expected a difficult day. It took a little work, but mom did come around and we continued what I consider our usual routine, soaking up every second.
Mom was really enjoying our sing along time, so I seized the moment. I was careful not to expect too much but, during a time when mom was very present, I asked her to sing a Beatles song she used to sing to me all the time: "Michelle My Belle." She smiled.
I played the song on my iPhone, and Mom really dug deep inside and sang my namesake song to me as she had when I was younger. She even sang the French verses. We "hand danced" throughout the entire song. During the part that says, "I love you, I love you, I love you," mom was looking into my eyes, singing from her soul to mine. When the song ended, we exchanged a warm embrace and kisses.
These are the surprises I am so fortunate to receive during our visits. I will cherish this day always, and I am grateful I have it on video to play over and over when missing mom.
The before and after I know what to expect; it's during the time we spend together that I receive the love that only a mother can give.
No tears today.
Always a mom. ❤