Perspective Shift to Include Loved One With Dementia in Social Gatherings

The holidays and celebrations are a wonderful time to gather with friends and family. There is shopping and planning, cooking and cleaning, perhaps traveling, and lots of decorating. Frankly, it is a lot of work, even if its fun and gratifying. When you combine all of that with caring for a loved one with dementia, an extra level of stress and uncertainty can be added.

We can get in a mode of risk management or a cost-benefit analysis. We can focus too much on the cost and talk ourselves out of experiencing the benefits.

Hosting a new group at home

Recently, we had our group of friends over. It was my first time hosting this group. I had the house decorated and made a huge batch of jambalaya and bread pudding. I was expecting a lot of people, and I wanted to share some New Orleans flavor, so they could get to know me better.

Mom kept trying to help. I tried giving her tasks, like stirring a pot on the stove. She asked where the stove was and proceeded to open the refrigerator. I felt like a plate spinner from the circus! I stirred the pot, closed the fridge, got mom back to her chair, stirred the pot, got something out of the dog's mouth that she shouldn’t have, stirred the pot, put mascara on my left eye, stirred the pot, got mom back in her chair again, stirred the pot, went back for the right eye (didn't I?), stirred the pot, and so on...

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Gratitude for gracious friends

I burned the Jambalaya in the bottom of the pot and added too much water, so it was a little mushy. I had lost track. I could have felt terrible, but looking around my open floor plan, seeing all the adults and kids laughing and chatting and playing games, I was happy.

My heart warmed at seeing my friends gathered and enjoying my hospitality, which I am reminded is the important thing - being together.

My mom babbled and smiled and tried to chat with everyone. She said some things that could be interpreted graciously by my friends as wise, something about loving and keeping it in your heart, she said to an engaged couple. They enjoyed my mom.

Pulling the "mystery" out of it

As they were leaving, one of my friends hugged me and thanked me for sharing my home and my mom with them. Now she can see what I go through and what I'm dealing with. It helps her understand and helps her with dealing with her own family; it is not so mysterious. It brings it out of the shadows and into the light and makes it more normal and real.

Then, she squeezed my arm and said it gets easier the more you do it, and not to try to do so much.

I appreciated everyone's grace and gratitude. They overlooked the flaws in my jambalaya and my mom and just enjoyed all of it. What if I had backed out for fear of... All of the things we are afraid of, and experienced while caring for a loved one with dementia? We know that list!

The value of including a loved one in social gatherings

What if I had set my mom up in her room and tried to carry on the party without her? I would have missed out on a lot of love from my friends and she would have, too. They would have missed out on a living lesson of including a family member no matter their capacity.

This dinner encouraged me to have my son's future in-laws over for dinner for the first time. Mom sat at the table with us, sang her answers, and got their son's pronoun wrong - calling him "she." Then mom got it straight and said he's "doing all right." She led us in a round of applause for him! It was the wackiest dinner ever, and we have never laughed so hard!

Including mom has meant embracing the chaos and making memories that will last long after she is gone. While there are certainly sad memories - Alzheimer's disease sucks - I have made room, also, to have some really great ones. And, hopefully, I'm blazing a trail for others on this journey.

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