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Christmas with MomI am not unlike any other daughter who has memories of Mom at Christmas. Of course, I remember as a child the family gatherings, the letters to Santa, the very early Christmas mornings where my siblings and I woke to gifts and the smell of Mom’s homemade cocoa.

But Christmas of 2011 will forever remain a more powerful memory for me. As caregiver to my Mother who had Lewy Body Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, I was “forced” into a special relationship that evolved between myself (adult daughter) and my Mom. For several months prior to Christmas, my siblings and myself tried to make sense of Mom’s occasional emotional outbursts, her ever present demand to “go home “and the constant packing of random items she felt important to take with her as she waited for “the ride home.”

Early December she and I spent an entire day making Christmas cookies for friends and her neighbors, and Mom packed them all so neatly in the decorated tins. What a great day and she never tired; while I was exhausted as 8 hours in a kitchen is about 7 hours more than I can endure. My sister and Mom decorated her home for the holiday, a tradition they shared together for many years. Mom was known as having a professional decorator’s eye and she and Jean could work some real magic with a room. Mom was SO proud and amazed with the Magnolia leaves Jean placed on the mantle. “Have you ever seen anything like this”? she asked me. Yes, Mom. You have decorated like this for years. But it was all new to her this year.

Mom had Capgras syndrome, brought about by her dementia. Those who have this believe those closest to them are replicas; clever fakes (imposters) that look like their loved ones but are not. And there were two of me. There was Pam, the daughter, and Pam “the other Pam”. I was preparing for a trip to my daughter’s home in Austin, TX for this Christmas and Mom said to me, “She is packing a suitcase and going to her home”. I responded “Yes she is”. And Mom would engage in a conversation that made perfect sense about “the other Pam”. I quickly learned to never challenge her with these delusions. And in this surrender to where she was, I learned many things about Mom AND myself.

My Mother had a strong personality and I was often very intimidated by her most of my adult life. While I always knew she loved me, there were many times I chose to limit my time with her for my own sake. But with her dementia, I got to see the “real” Mom. The vulnerable one. The scared, grateful, kind and caring one. The Mom who told everyone I was the best roommate she could ever ask for. The Mom who bragged about how I could always fix her hair just right. The Mom who finally said to me, with such sincerity, “I am so glad you are not leaving me.”

So there is the best Christmas gift ever from my Mom to me. In the absence of her dementia, I would never have been liberated of all those intimidating memory moments with her. And I would never have seen my Mom for who she really was. In her dementia, she let me.

So you see, I was the one who finally “came home.”

Merry Christmas everyone!

Pam Van Ahn is the Executive Director of Caring Together in Hope. You can find Caring Together in Hope’s Facebook page HERE.

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