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Bursack: How can I mark Mom's Mother's Day when Mom can't understand or remember?

Carol Bradley Bursack, Minding Our Elders columnist. Special to The Forum

Dear Carol: My mom is just 62 but she began showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s four years ago. She lives in a good nursing home and I visit nearly every day. What’s bothering me is Mother’s Day. I know that the nursing home will do a nice job of making the ladies’ tables look festive, and with celebrating in general. I’ll bring Mom flowers and a gift that I will help her unwrap, but it tears me apart that she doesn’t understand what it’s about and she won’t remember that I was there.

I’m writing because a friend of mine is trying to convince me that since this will be my Mother’s Day, too, I should use the day to stay home with my kids. She suggested that I bring Mom my flowers and gift early. I know that she means well, but for this year, at least, I need to visit Mom on the actual day. Even so, I’d like to know your thoughts for the future. — MHT.

Dear MHT: Because everyone’s situation is different, I usually avoid laying down rules except in the few circumstances where I see no alternative. I believe that your friend means well. She sees you stressing yourself to take care of your mom. It seems from her view that since your mom probably won’t be aware of the meaning of the day, it would be better for you to bring her gifts early and allow yourself this special day to be with your children.

Considering your letter, though, I believe that you are taking the best approach for you at this time, especially given your mom's rapid decline from the disease. Your mom will likely enjoy your efforts even if she doesn’t understand what it’s about. If she forgets you were there, that’s OK. Even if she sleeps, it’s OK. You were there and that matters to you.

We all need to remember, too, that it’s easy to underestimate what people with dementia understand. The meaning of Mother’s Day may not register with your mom, but the fact that you are there and there’s something special about the day could mean far more to her than she is able to express.

While I have a strong preference for people making time for at least a quick visit to loved ones in care homes on special days, I understand that there are caregivers who because of their circumstances can’t realistically do so, at least not without seriously shortchanging others.

Caregivers continually have to prioritize, both for the sake of other family members and for their own mental and physical health. If that means that some caregivers are taking this Mother’s Day to stay home for their spouse and/or children, I don’t fault them. As long as their elder is safe and cared for, each caregiver must make decisions based on multiple factors in their lives.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, perhaps particularly to those who are giving so much to be caregivers.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carolbradleybursack@mindingourelders.com.