BY SUSAN PASCAL
Learning that your mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is devastating news. But according to three of our favorite members of the WAM community, it turns out, acting as caregiver to your mother can also lead to a deepening relationship filled with a sense of purpose, connection, and love.
In honor of Mother’s Day, TV host Leeza Gibbons, country artist Jay Allen, and journalist Deborah Roberts share their heartwarming memories and the inspiring lessons they learned watching their mothers battle Alzheimer’s with dignity and grace.
“When my mother got Alzheimer’s, my world went stone cold silent,” says Gibbons, founder of Care Connection, whose mother passed away from the disease. “For a long while, I struggled and kicked and screamed and cried. Lots of crying. But, a mother’s work is never done, and somewhere during the journey, I realized my mom was mothering me through her disease.”
Gibbons says she took away three powerful lessons from her years as caregiver:
Being present is enough. I got out of my “over-busy” trap and began to learn to accept that I couldn’t fix my way out of this one. I was awakened to the beauty of moments spent in silence, just sharing energy and love with no outcome or result. She couldn’t be in my world, so I tried to join her in hers.
Patience is powerful. Patience was never a skill of mine, but I learned through my mother’s Alzheimer’s that waiting for something to pass , and resisting the need to be successful was in itself, a victory.
Forgiveness is freeing. Mostly I found a lot of grace through forgiveness. I forgave myself for sometimes feeling cheated and for not always showing up the way I wanted to and for not being able to change the course of her disappearance. My mother always said “show up, do your best and let go of the rest”. I try to model that for my kids. Thank you mom.
Country singer Jay Allen’s mother, Sherry, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 53. In her honor, he wrote the song “Blank Stares,” which he performed with her, onstage. Here is the touching video of the two of them together in 2018.
“My momma was the epitome of selflessness,” Allen says. “Growing up, I remember her repeatedly saying ‘God made me, so I could love you.’”
Even after her passing, Allen stays he still feels the influence of her uplifting spirit. “When I wrote “Blank Stares”, it was my attempt to pay her back for all she’d given me. But still, she managed to turn it into something that would ultimately build a foundation for my career,” he says. “More importantly, her story lives on and has helped raise over $30 million in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Through my momma, the most important lesson I’ve learned, is that even in pain, there is power, there is purpose, and there is beauty.”
ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts recalls her mother, a woman who raised nine children, as loving, sharp, decisive and a great cook. So when she watched her very competent mother begin to decline from Alzheimer’s, it was extremely painful. “The Mom I revered and always turned to for home-spun wisdom began to slip away, slowly,” she recalls. “As things progressed, my heart would break a little more each time I visited. Soon she didn’t call my name. But I knew that her heart recognized me as we sat often in silence and attempted small conversations.”
Roberts says an important life lesson was to find solace in the time she did spend with her mother. “It was finally my turn to make her feel special. My visits took on a new meaning. They were simple. All about time, tenderness companionship. Feeling blessed to help keep her comfortable and content.”
Though she’s still making her way out of the heartbreak of losing her mother. Roberts says, “I find comfort in potent, sweet memories of my very special steel magnolia.”
What are the lessons you learned from watching your mother confront the challenge of Alzheimer’s? Join our Facebook page and share your stories.