My mother is as outgoing as the day is long. Interacting with others–family, friends, strangers, or passersby–is and has always been fuel for her. It’s what gets her out of bed in the morning and it’s what keeps her going. She’s always curious, caring, and genuinely enjoys conversation–with anyone. Seriously, anyone. I love it about her.
It’s also (in my opinion) a big part of why Mom has such good friendships. Wherever we’ve been in life, she’s always had good friends. This has long been a point of admiration for me–not that she had lots of friends, but rather the visible quality of the relationships. They all seemed so close. Until her dementia diagnosis and decline, though, I didn’t understand the depth of connection and power of those friendships.
Mom’s friends come from all phases of her life. Bonnie, Liz, Pam, Kathy, Judy and others go way back to elementary school. They’re still there. Jemella is from the gym in the last 10 or 15 years–and she’s still there. Anne and Linda and Elaine are friends of friends who’ve over time become forever friends with Mom. They’re there too.. Maureen is someone Mom met in her new assisted living community and they’re super tight already.
Regardless of the origin, each of her relationships share common threads. They go beyond the surface and they endure. It’s hard to describe but there is a palpable sense of real care and compassion in these relationships. Put simply, they’re the type of friends I want my kids to be, and to have, when they grow up.
Since Mom’s diagnosis, friends have stepped up in little ways that have gigantic impact. Some friends knew what to expect with Mom’s diagnosis, others didn’t but took it upon themselves to learn. To some extent we’ve all learned together. It’s been a rocky road at times no doubt, but regardless, Mom’s friends have been there at every turn.
Last weekend for example, 4 of her oldest friends coordinated a get together. They drove 70 miles for lunch to get Mom and take her out for lunch. They do it every few months without batting an eye. It makes Mom’s week. Mine too. Every time.
While it’s beyond wonderful (and no small thing) that her friends are still there, it’s not even the best part. Mom’s friends see her, not the stigma of dementia. That is the best part for me–by a mile.
Part of the Story, Not the Story
They don’t act any differently with Mom than they ever have. If she’s repeating herself, it rolls off their back. When Mom’s confused about something or needs some help finding words, these friends don’t skip a beat. If Mom’s angry or sad or flustered, they support gracefully. As only a true friend, a true carer can do. It’s beautiful.
They treat Mom like their friend Rosemary, not like their friend Rosemary who’s struggling with dementia. In their eyes, she’s not walking around with a Scarlett D on her sweater. Sure, the conversations and lunch dates are different now. They don’t ignore the dementia but they don’t get bogged down with it either. They take it for what it is, just part of Mom’s story not the whole story. Everyone has a story and Mom’s friends get that. Tears flow at times but there are way more laughs.
They connect with their friend as they always have. It’s small and subtle thing with a H-U-G-E impact. I can hear it in her voice after one of these calls or visits or road trips. Mom’s lifted up, almost like the visit or the call reminded her that dementia’s just part of her story, not the entire story.
That’s what makes Mom’s friends amazing. I don’t know what I’d do without them.
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