Sunday was my mother’s birthday, Easter Sunday.
How do you plan a birthday celebration worthy of 83 years, for a woman with dementia?
The answer is you don’t.
Last year at this time my mother was still in the hospital fighting delirium and paranoia. Determined not to let a little thing like dementia and psychosis ruin her birthday (can you say denial?) I planned a big family celebration. All available family members gathered in the meeting room down the hall from Mom’s room, complete with cake and decorations. The only thing we didn’t have was Mom. In her fragile state, the whole thing left her overwhelmed. She wouldn’t open her eyes, talk to anyone or get out of bed.
Not one of my best parties.
So, this year family members wisely decided to visit Mom in waves throughout the week offering their own congratulations. Still, I wrestled with the urge to make it special – to make it the same as it was before Mom had dementia.
Walking through the department store searching for a gift for her I pondered this very thing. What do I buy for this new version of my mother?
Should I buy her a picture for her room? – No, changing her room disorients and confuses her.
Family photos? – No, the family photos she has are stashed away in her cabinet. She can’t remember who all the grandchildren are (since they keep changing) and looking at them frustrates her.
Special mementos? – No, they would be stolen.
Technology? - No, it will start a fire if it is plugged to the electrical socket.
I could take her out? – No, She’s using a walker now and out-trips take more out of her than they used to. Several weeks after I take her out, she puts her coat on each time I visit, thinking we are going out.
And I realize I am trying to celebrate a personality that no longer exists. This is birthday – dementia style.
So, we begin again. We simplify, we downsize and we stop trying to make it something it is not. We replace the big family dinner -complete with the roast and gifts – with a small cake, a big musical card and a beautiful bouquet at nursing home table.
But the one thing that remains – and always will remain – is love.