Walking through the facility this morning, a resident’s screams caught my attention.
” Mama help me! Mama please come on”! As I rounded the corner, there sat one of our most beloved resident’s, sitting comfortably in a recliner, screaming for “mama” at the top of her lungs.
“Mrs. James, what’s going on”? I asked, carefully kneeling down while resting my hand on her knee.
“Mama left me here. I don’t know anybody here. I haven’t seen mama in days. She might be dead for all I know.” Suddenly tears began flooding her face. ” Have you seen her? Do you know if she is doing alright? Lord have mercy on my mama.”
“Mrs. James,” your mama is fine.” There is an art to thinking ahead of Mrs. James due to her sharp wit and partly due to her confusion.
“If she is fine, where is she? Where is she?”, her voice grew louder and louder.
“She had to go to the store and stop by the hair dresser’s, then she will be back”, I offered, hoping she would buy into my use of validation therapy.
“So she is coming back to get me? I have to get home before dark.”
After reassuring her of her mother’s return, Mrs. James appeared content. Content for the moment.
It is relatively common for dementia patients to look for,as well as yell out for their mothers. There is something comforting about having our mother close by, regardless of age or disease process. Maybe it is because she represents a place of safety or reassurance that everything is going to be okay, no matter the circumstances. Mother’s bring comfort to us when we are born. They meet our needs in every possible way. They change our diapers, provide us with food and rock us to sleep. Mother’s are God’s angels sent to take care of us until we are able to make our own way in life.
There is an old saying, “Once a man, twice a child.” There is great truth in that adage. Babies require all of their needs to be met by someone else. Growing up, my mother was our source of everything we needed. She fed us, laid us down for naps, changed our diapers, held our hands as we took our first steps; carefully guarding us from a nasty fall. My mother gave us our first bite of real food…(peas and carrots…which I have never forgiven her for). She coaxed us into ” open wide and take a bite”. She would put us in the bathtub every evening, checking us for ticks, scrapes and any other abnormality. She saw to it that we had clean sheets, enough “cover” to provide warmth. Every night, she would look for my favorite stuffed animal, a little brown bear named Roy, which my brothers loved to hide from me. She would tuck Roy and I in, kiss me goodnight and was always careful to leave the door cracked. She would say she was leaving it slightly cracked so she could hear me if I called out during the night, but I know she left it open because I was afraid of the dark and she knew the little slither of light provided brought me comfort.
On October 28th, 2002, my mother died peacefully in her sleep. I had talked to her the day before on the telephone, telling her I would be traveling to see her the next day. She always had a list for me. The same list. “bring me baby powder,cheeze its, butterfinger bars and oranges. Fresh oranges.” The roles had changed. I was meeting her needs even though she was in a nursing home because of her dementia and other health related issues. She depended on my siblings and I to provide her with the things she needed. Even with her confusion, I often would seek her advice on my marriage issues. I would take comfort in hearing her tell me “everything is going to work out.” I needed my mother to hear my problems, offer her opinion and guide me through a difficult time. I, like Mrs. James, needed my mother.
The only difference between Mrs. James and I? I understand the reality that my mother has passed away. I know she is gone and isn’t coming back. Mrs. James has lost the ability to understand reality and recognize her losses. So, as her care provider, I reassure her that ” it will all work out”, just as my mother did for me.