DEAR SOMEONE ELSE’S MOM: My 87-year-old mother lives 100 miles away, and I have not been able to see her since March of 2020. She usually does not know who I am if I call her, and her caregivers have told me that she gets angry and depressed when she gets calls from people she is supposed to know but cannot remember. For that reason, I have limited my phone calls to her. I sent Christmas gifts and birthday gifts to her. I have sent flowers as well.
I cannot help but feel very guilty for not having visited her. I have not been able to get vaccinated yet, but I do have an appointment. Once I am fully vaccinated, I want to visit, but I am reluctant because of the issue with dementia and her not remembering who I am. It kills me every time she forgets who I am.
I have three siblings who live in the same town and they would let me know if there is an emergency with Mom.
How do I handle this situation after it is safe for me to visit her? Do I go to assuage my guilt, or do I continue to be distanced so that the caregivers do not have a difficult time with her? --- HEARTBROKEN AND FEELING GUILTY IN OHIO
DEAR HEARTBROKEN AND FEELING GUILTY IN OHIO: Your situation is a familiar one to many families, including my own.
As you wait to be fully vaccinated and more able to travel safely, put away your guilt. It sounds like you’ve been doing what you can in our extraordinary times.
You didn’t mention if your siblings have had eyes-on your mom in any capacity recently. If they’ve been able to at least have window visits with her, hopefully they can give you an idea of how she responds to seeing people who aren’t around her all the time. Her reaction may be very different from what you’ve experienced with your phone calls, which being more abstract might understandably cause issues for someone struggling with dementia.
Your mom’s caregivers, who’ve been candid with you about her agitation over phone calls, may also be able to give you some guidance based on what they’ve seen working for other residents and their loved ones, especially as long-term care centers begin to gradually re-open and in-person visits are reintroduced.
Ultimately, if you decide to visit, you may need to reconcile yourself to the fact that it’s more for your peace of mind than being of material benefit to your mom. She may still be confused as to who you are, but going with the flow could make for less stressful, less discouraging, more rewarding time with her.