My mom is growing into childhood

Every day, in different ways, my mom gets a little more childlike.

“You’re my bestest friend and … daughter,” she says to me, the daughter part sounding more and more like an afterthought.

“You’re the only one left,” she says. But I remind her that all of her daughters are still alive, which prompts her to ask who her daughters are. I realize when she says I’m the only one left, she’s not talking about her daughters. She thinks I’m someone from the earliest part of her life — a brother, a sister, a friend. She’s losing her identity as a mother and moving further back into her own childhood. The people and places that populated her world then are what she remembers, what she longs for.

“It’s not so bad here,” she says, referring to the assisted living facility where she now lives. “But it’s nothing like Niagara Falls. I want to go home.”

I’ve done the math, and Niagara Falls hasn’t been her home for almost 60 years. Just before moving into assisted living, she spent over twenty years in a small apartment in New Jersey that she loved. Before that, she raised her children in a New Jersey house where she lived for 36 years. She has a limited recollection of the apartment; she seems to have lost all memory of the house.

There’s so much loss associated with this disease, and my mom knows it. One of her favorite sayings is, “I’m losing it.” I can’t argue with her.

But maybe I don’t have to focus so much on the loss.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a recent New Yorker article that describes a new approach to dementia care based on the work of Thomas Kitwood, a psychologist who put patients first. He believed “true meeting can occur, and life-giving relationships can grow” if those who care for dementia patients can get beyond their own defenses and anxieties.

My mom is gradually forgetting that she gave birth to me almost 45 years ago, and that troubles me, but these days, there’s more tenderness in our relationship. She’s more carefree and playful, except when she’s sad. Like never before, she seeks out connections with the people around her, even if she can’t remember them five minutes later. We’re closer than we’ve been in 20 years, and close in a healthier way than ever before.

My mom may be losing the person she used to be, but our relationship isn’t lost. It’s changed, and it continues to change. And in some ways, I guess it’s growing.

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About daughter3

My mom has Alzheimer's disease. She's 89 and lives in a nursing home. She has three daughters. I'm her youngest.
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8 Responses to My mom is growing into childhood

  1. Nancy says:

    How wonderful that you are mature enough to appreciate the growth in the relationship and how important the moment is..

  2. Mary Gordon says:

    I don’t think it matters how long you’ve been gone, that pull home is strong…I’ve been living with it for about 10 years now so can understand what she’s saying. And I left there at 18, doesn’t make a lot of sense. Again, thanks for sharing, it’s painful and enlightening…

    • daughter3 says:

      Yes, that’s true for many people. My mom sometimes thinks Niagara Falls is home for me, too, and for other people. It surprises her sometimes when I remind her that I live in Brooklyn. Thanks so much for reading, Mary!

  3. Barbara Glickstein says:

    I enjoy your writing so much. I also read that New Yorker article. I hope this model takes hold so that families, caregivers, professionals see dementia in a new light. Thank you.

  4. wordpress websites with caroline says:

    my mum was in a nursing home for just over 3 years before she passed away last august. it is good to see others embracing the return to childhood with their loved ones. We used to bring in coloring books and pencils, we did heaps of craft with stickers and we now have precious cards and crafts that our mum made with us and for us, and for her grandkids. good luck with your journey with your mum. my sister and i also set up a blog to document our time with mum- you can find it through my link.

    • daughter3 says:

      Thanks so much, Caroline. I’m really glad you were able to make crafts with your mom. It makes me think of ways I might be able to keep my mom engaged as the disease moves her further into childhood. Can you please provide the link to your blog? I would like to read it. Thank you.

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