How can I help my mom deal with being alone on Christmas day?

Tracys asked...

My mom has been living in assisted living for about 3 months. She has moderate dementia. I live 60 miles away, but I see her once per week. We run errands and I help her with little chores. I also manage all of her finances and medical care. This year my husband and I will be with his family for Christmas out of state. We will visit with my mom and 'celebrate' Christmas on Sunday, the 23rd. I am not sure that she will remember that we did this. I will also see her on Saturday, the 28th. My mom seems to like living where she does and has made a few friends. I also know that there will be people around on that day. On some levels I am feeling horribly guilty and on others I think it is totally reasonable that we spend time with my husband's family. I just don't know what to say to her or what to do to ease her anxiety and sadness (or my guilt). Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

Expert Answer

Kay Paggi, GCM, LPC, CGC, MA, is in private practice as a geriatric care manager and is on the advisory board for the Emeritus Program at Richland College. She has worked with seniors for nearly 20 years as a licensed professional counselor, certified gerontological counselor, and certified geriatric care manager.

Knowing loved ones will be without family on holidays is difficult. It is easier for you because your mother has some memory deficits - she may not realize that particular day is Christmas Day. Certainly you can talk to her before you leave and explain where you will be, and when you will return. You also can relieve your guilt and make her day better with some extra TLC.

  • Send her Christmas cards, one for every day you are gone. If you have a way to get photos developed while you are out of town, you can send her some photos of you that she might enjoy, either before you return or while you are still gone.

  • Send her flowers or candy to be delivered once or twice while you are away.

  • Leave a package for her to open on Christmas. Ask a staff member to keep it and give it to her on Christmas.

  • Call her several times. Do not tell her what a great time you are having (away from her) or dwell on the fact that you are not with her; don't ask her what she has been doing (she may not remember). Instead, talk about past Christmases or other positive, favorite memories. Or, have some current event that might interest her to discuss with her.

  • One of the nicest things I've seen recently is a photo album with Christmas photos from previous Christmases. One person did an album of photos with Santa, starting with her childhood, then to her children's, and finally including some of her grandchildren's. This made a personal keepsake for her mother, that will be passed down in your family for years to come.

  • Remember that guilt is not helpful for anyone. Focus on being positive, and helping her have positive experiences.