Wisdom from our elders
Should son visit for Mother’s Day even when Mom doesn’t know him?
Dear GrandPad: My mother has Alzheimer’s and lives in memory care near my sister. Even before the virus shutdowns Mom had gotten so that she didn’t recognize my sister who saw her often. Since I live over 200 miles away, I visited monthly but for the last year, I’ve only seen Mom on video. Now that limited visits are an option, I was thinking about driving over for Mother’s Day but I’m getting cold feet. What’s the point if she doesn’t recognize me? It’s painful to see that I’m just another person to her. My sister says to come anyway, but is it that important that I visit just because of Mother’s Day? – BG
Dear BG: We’re really sorry. We know it’s painful for a child of any age to realize that they are no longer recognized by their parent for who they are, so our hearts are with you. Still, there are several things about people living with Alzheimer’s that you should consider before you allow your cold feet to change your plans.
One is that each day – even each moment – is different for people with Alzheimer’s, so your mom might understand something or recognize someone one day, but not the next. There is no way to plan these times, but they happen. In fact, many families have experienced times when they have walked into a room and a person who has been consistently confused will suddenly address them with complete clarity.
Our point here isn’t that you can expect this to happen, but that the person who raised you, loved you, and perhaps knew you best is still “in there.” Whether or not this person becomes evident to you while you’re there is not the point. The point is that your mom is still your mom and she is present even though her brain is failing her.
No one, including physicians, can tell you exactly what will happen with your mom’s understanding at any given moment. So, to decide that because your mom may not recognize you as her son means the visit won’t matter is risky. She may not be able to place your name or how exactly you fit into the picture, but she will know that you are there to see her. That counts for a lot.
We don’t mean to diminish the pain that you’re feeling over her inability to place you in her universe. Nor are we implying that people who are unable to see their mothers on Mother's Day should feel guilty. But you asked about your specific situation so we’re telling you that we think your visit would benefit not only her but you.
Consider too, that her health is likely fragile even if she appears reasonably strong. You may not have another Mother’s Day when you can see her.
You’re a good son who wants to do the right thing. We encourage you to visit this Mother’s Day if you can. We think that you’ll be glad that you did.