Mother to Mother, On Mother’s Day

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

I am a mother and a motherless child, an aunt to 19, three of whom lost their mother last year. Until my own mother passed away, I never associated Mother’s Day with loss but the holiday raises mixed emotions of joy, sadness, gratitude, and love.

Mothering is defined by Webster as the act of “bringing up a child with care and affection,” but that definition doesn’t begin to capture the ethos of a mother: one who cares for her child, her friend’s child and the community around them. Those of us raised by loving mothers or aunts, older sisters or grandmothers know the quiet touch and backbone of steel that mothering requires. We celebrate each other’s joys, we mourn each other’s losses, we comfort those in need.

Recently I read “From Mother to Mother, Having a Child with Substance Abuse Issues,” a poignant essay in which the author, Cathy Miles, conveys how her daughter’s addiction changed her personal celebration of Mother’s Day. What caught my attention was the phrase “from Mother to Mother,” the code all mothers use to signal honesty, empathy, awareness and action. Cathy is a mother with an ill child who openly shares her fears and depression, dreams lost and life changed; one who shares her story so others may not feel alone in their own child’s journey with addiction. Cathy is the mother of a daughter but she is mothering us as well.

On this Mother’s Day, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. Not alone with a disabled child, an ailing parent, or an aging body. Not alone as a teenage mother, a widowed elder or a mentally ill adult. As long as your world is filled with women and men who embrace mothering, they will notice and support your needs.

A few weeks ago a neighbor and the mother of four visited a homeless shelter. Through a quick email to a gaggle of friends she solicited 850 pair of new underwear without fanfare or fuss, overwhelming the shelter with her generosity and waiving off the gift, as mothers do. Linger a moment on her request. Underwear? Only a mother would think about new underwear and the importance of that gift to a homeless person, a gesture of kindness and a reminder of their value as a human being.

Now, just for a minute, think about the outcome if that email went to a gaggle of men.

Happy Mother’s Day to the mothers among us and to all who enjoy mothering.

c Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.

Are You One of the Village People?

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

Next Thursday, June 30th, I’m heading to Cape Cod to join the Village People. I won’t be donning my cowboy boots or singing “Y-M-C-A” but I will be leading a fun, community-wide conversation about aging and aging in place with Neighborhood Falmouth, one of the first virtual retirement villages in the United States. Joining our conversation will be experts in law, financial planning, home care and senior housing along with working daughters juggling aging parents and teenage children, Baby Boomers planning for their own longevity, and a random cowboy or two. If you’re heading to Cape Cod for the fourth of July, especially if you’ll be spending time with your older relatives, stop by and join the conversation. Learn why fewer Baby Boomers will be using senior housing. No singing skills required.

Here’s where we’ll be on Thursday, June 30, 2016, 7pm-8:30pm: Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Falmouth, Sandwich Road, Falmouth.

c2016 Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Joys of Dementia

by Jan Simpson Benvenuti

“Wouldn’t it be better if your mother died?” a friend asked over tea when I mentioned that my mother had Alzheimer’s disease. Too stunned to reply directly to her remark, I said simply, “Oh no, it’s not that bad,” and I quickly shifted our conversation to her children.

Die? I should have been outraged by her question, yet I learned long ago that many people consider memory loss to be worse than death itself. Would she have asked that question if I told her my mother had breast cancer?

Say the word “dementia” and the world shudders. Tweeters tweet, media moguls opine, and writers of blogs and books rail about the tragedy of memory loss. Yet most people have never actually lived with someone whose memory is fading, and many find the thought unnerving. My mother lived with memory loss for 17 years and I want to emphasize the word lived. For most of those years, she prepared meals, did the laundry, attended family gatherings, and loved her grandchildren. When my father passed away, one sister and I took her into our homes, concerned that she should not live alone.  During that time, I came to appreciate the benefits of not remembering, of forgetting the day-to-day indignities of aging, of living in the moment.

At the risk of offending your sensibilities, below is a list of five joys of having dementia.

1) You get to live in the moment again, just as you did as a child. Rain and snow, falling leaves and lightning, the best of mother nature becomes a source of wonder and delight. Do you recall when you measured time by the weather and the season and not the clock? Dementia returns you to that season of life.

2) Young children adore you because you’ll watch them play and perform with joy. My daughter and her friends were five when her Nana came to live with us. I still recall one Sunday afternoon when the girls, bejeweled and dressed with boas, tiaras, dresses and bangles, performed The Hungry Caterpillar over and over and over again. Each time my mother enjoyed the performance with fresh eyes.

3) You’ll forget the rules of life and break them. Eat dessert before dinner, why not?

4) You may forget the loss of your loved ones. After 59 years of marriage, my mother should have grieved for a year or more after my father’s passing. But, she forgot he died. She didn’t forget him, of course, she just forgot that he had passed away. “Does Bob know that I’m here?” she would ask. “Yes,” I’d lie, and we’d resume our activities for the day.

5) You’ll remind your adult children just by your physical presence to take care of their health, appreciate their loved ones, enjoy every moment of life, and not sweat the small stuff.

Dementia may rob your older relatives of memories, but it provides the family an opportunity to celebrate your time with them and convey important family values to your children. One Sunday I planned a special family dinner to celebrate my mother’s birthday. “Why are we celebrating her birthday?” my 12 year-old son complained. “It’s stupid, she won’t remember it.”  “Really?” I replied, “tell me what you remember about your first birthday party.”  He stopped complaining.

My son was right, my mother would not remember her party. But he would, and I would, too. It was our last celebration with her.

How do you enjoy time with your relatives who are growing forgetful? Here are 101 activities you may want to try.

I know, first-hand, the chaos that this disease causes for the elder and their extended family. Yet I refute the belief that those living with dementia have little to teach us in their last years. My mother, like many others, retained cognition through the end of her life using strategies I describe in Don’t Give Up on Me! Consider purchasing a copy through Circle of Life Partners; all proceeds are donated to support elders and their families.

©2015 Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.