My mom cries daily for her deceased mom in the bathroom, what can we do?

4 answers | Last updated: Sep 24, 2016
Bpostell asked...

My mother cries daily for her mother and father who have been deceased for 15 + years. This occurs 99% of the time in the bathroom. We don't know what the connection is with the bathroom and her crying. She cries whether we are bathing or just using the toilet. HELP!!!

Expert Answers

Jytte Lokvig, PhD, coaches families and professional caregivers and designs life-enrichment programs and activities for patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. Her workshops and seminars help caregivers and families create a healthy environment based on dignity and humor. She is the author of Alzheimer's A to Z: A Quick-Reference Guide.

Many of us have a hard time with death and grief; we are very uncomfortable with overt exhibition of anguish, especially so many years after someone's death. Think of what we tell each other when a loved one has died: "Life goes on," "time heals all wounds," and even "get over it already!" There are no standards for how long any one of us needs to mourn.

Unfortunately you do not elaborate on what happens before or after these episodes, so I have to assume that you've tried to get your mother to talk about it, to no avail.

If your mother's crying spells only happen in that one particular bathroom, in other words, not in public restrooms or at friends' houses, try to have her use another bathroom in your house or have her help you redecorate the "trigger" bathroom. I would also encourage you to help her with her grief. It might ease her pain if you work together to set up a "shrine" for them (filled with joyful memories) "“ and encourage her to talk about the joy and the pain. Celebrate your grandparents with her.

Lastly, contact a grief counselor at one of your local hospices.

Community Answers

Bpostell answered...

My mother cries in both bathrooms in my house and at my sister's house. She is not grieving over her parents. She doesn't realize that they are deceased. She thinks that they can come and take her home to take care of her. In her mind they are still alive and we are keeping her from seeing them. She doesn't know us as we are. She knows she has three children and she knows our names, but she doesn't realize that we are the children.

Jytte lokvig answered...

I'm glad you clarified. Your mother's issues are very different, so please disregard all the advice on grief; that's the last feeling you want to reinforce. Your mother is experiencing an "altered reality," (also thought of as a hallucination) a frequent phenomenon in people with Alzheimer's and related dementias. In your mother's case, bathrooms trigger something in her mind and take her back to her childhood. It's important for you and the family to understand that she is "reliving" rather than "remembering" "“ there's a big difference. In her mind she IS six, eight or ten years old and her parents have abandoned her. Telling her that they are dead will only aggravate the situation; it's like telling a six year-old that her parents have just died.

When she goes into this state, your actions need to be directed at the "child-reality" that she's experiencing. You can reassure her by using a "loving lie." I'll call your mother Helen in this example: "Helen, your mom just called; she and your dad are going to be a little late, so she said for you to relax and enjoy yourself. Come, let's . . ." And then offer her a diversion: a cup of tea, listening to favorite music, helping you in the kitchen, or whatever might work to distract her and change her focus.

As a child, you were likely told to the point of exasperation NEVER to lie. Right? A "loving lie" (also known as a therapeutic lie) is based on your mother's reality at that moment; hence, it's her "truth." The importance is to keep her spirits up. One day she may be able to accept that her parents are gone, - or maybe never. It doesn't matter. Don't talk about it unless she asks directly, "Are my parents dead?" Then be very gentle in your response and let her mood lead the conversation. Her body language will guide you, especially when to change the subject to something unrelated.

You, your sister and your families need to be your mother's strongest allies and help her make the best of each day. PS. It doesn't matter that she doesn't realize that you are her daughter. All that matters is that you constantly reinforce your bond with her by "stepping into her shoes" to gauge what she needs and then be "her best friend" to help her through the moment.

Let's know how you do.

Bpostell answered...

Thank you very much. We have tried comforting her, but to no avail. I will use your suggestion the next time. She is with me for one week each month and is with my sister the rest of the month. I will share this with her also. My father passed away in March. She rarely mentions his name. They were married for 62 years. She thinks of him as a brother or cousin, but rarely as her husband and she is not aware that he has passed. She attended the funeral and wanted to know why was he just laying there. She asked, "why don't he get up?" She isn't even aware of death. I don't know what age she is living in at this time. I just know that her father and mother divorced when she was 8 years old. Her dad has not been a part of her life since that time. It's just amazing that she would cry for him and her mother. She has lost her ability to reason about anything. We just do the best we can which is why I reached out for help and tips on what to do. Again I thank you and I will keep in touch. My mom will be with me next week. We'll see what happens.