Day 8 - How She Knew Her Mother with Dementia, Despite Loss of Memory, is Still Herself on Christmas Day

When I was a kid, I used to dream of tearing open the paper on Christmas presents with merry abandon. But in my family, that wasn’t allowed.

My mother’s a child of the Great Depression, and that kind of wastefulness did NOT sit well with her!  So we would unwrap our gifts oh-so-carefully and pass the paper and ribbon to her one by one. She would delicately remove any tape, meticulously roll or fold the paper, and store it away for the Christmases to come.

Now that my mother has late-stage dementia, we no longer receive the beautifully wrapped gifts over which she once lovingly toiled. In fact, Mum’s grasp of the very concept of Christmas vanished a few years ago. As an adult, I must admit I get a little thrill when I realize I can tear a gift open if that’s what I feel like doing! 

In fact, I did that last year, helping Mum open one of her presents. Then I heard one family member chuckling, and another, until we were all helpless with laughter. Mum had no interest in her gift, but instead she was meticulously folding the discarded wrapping paper. She looked puzzled at first, then joined in the laughter.

Dementia is a terrible thief, robbing us of things both profound and mundane.

What delighted us all last Christmas was to witness a moment that said, “it’s still HER”.

What makes the memory even sweeter is the knowledge that – whether or not she understood why – she laughed as long and loud as the rest of us.

- Alison Smiley, Family caregiver for her mother with dementia

Precious memories are worth celebrating. Let us not forget those with Alzheimer's or other dementias who suffer from a loss of memory. For more information, visit the Alzheimer Society of Toronto.

Do you have a relative with dementia? Have there been moments where you breathed a sigh of relief, "It's still him/her!" Let us know by commenting below!


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