As the holiday season is firmly upon us, I find I am thinking a great deal about my mom, Margaret Coleman Moses, who lived with dementia for over a decade. I woke up yesterday morning, in fact, with an image in my head of a steaming cup of tea in one of my mom’s china teacups. It was lovely, like she was greeting me first thing in the morning with a cup of tea in hand (which was not her habit, but she well knew I was fond of that British custom!)
I like to remember one of the last times I saw Mom, out in Denver. This was several months prior to that morning when she slipped away from this life, after having a warm bath and being tucked back into bed by her caregiver at the nursing home. When I saw her that time, Mom no longer spoke very much, and I don’t think she knew my name at that point…but I remember well how she cocked her head and looked at me so intently and how her eyes just completely filled with love. It was overpowering. It still takes my breath away each time I go into that memory.
She knew I was someone close to her, for sure. And she gave me a great gift in that moment. That love clearly did not depend on words exchanged or on her knowing my name or on me saying the right thing. It was just there. I have often heard it said that persons with dementia never lose the ability to give or receive love – proof of that fact was handed to me in that moment. There is still a person in there with whom we can connect!
I would not be in the role I have now at Ebenezer if it weren’t for my mom. I would not have the passion I have for the topic of dementia care, or the inside knowledge of how dementia challenges a family as well as the person who is at the center of it. I would not have the same drive to ensure that the activities we do with our residents at Ebenezer are just that, done WITH them, not AT them, or FOR them, and to ensure that the care we provide is truly caring, empathetic and validating.
Here’s another thing about my mom, which I did not learn until the day she died. I had been involved in the theater for many years – I was in many plays in high school, majored in drama in college, worked for a theater company for over 15 years, and helped found a theatre-based training company, before Mom started showing signs of dementia. In the early afternoon on the morning she died, there I was, on the plane to Denver to join my sister and brother. Slouched in my seat and deep within my raw grief, I opened a newspaper that had arrived in the mail that morning, sent to me by a cousin, from my mom’s home town. I wasn’t sure why my cousin sent this issue, and after scanning the first page, I nearly put the paper away. Instead, I turned the page to find a big picture of my mom as a high school student, along with a young man. It was from a high school production of a play! That young man grew up to be a beloved doctor in town, who had recently passed away -- hence the article. So there she was, my mom, in a play! You see, I NEVER knew she was in a play! This was an astounding fact for me to learn! I felt so ashamed that I had NEVER asked her if she had been in one, and that I had assumed she was too shy to do something like that.
Another gift from Mom! Never assume you know what people have done or not done! I have used this story when I am training about activities and the importance of asking questions about residents and using their life story to create meaningful and purposeful activities.
These gifts are ones I will still remember long after the wrapping paper has been thrown away this year! Thanks, Mom! I couldn’t do this without you!
(FYI - for tips on handling the holidays when a loved one has dementia, please see my earlier post from December 2015)
--Marysue Moses, Ebenezer Dementia Care Program Coordinator