Extended families, single parenthood and the idea that a village plays an essential role in the raising of a child are considered by many folks to be a more contemporary style of parenting than the traditional values of my mother’s generation. Many people tend to define her generation’s family unit as having one father, one mother and a gaggle of children.
However, when my mother was growing up in the city in the 1920’s and 1930’s, she had a large extended family living under the same roof. Her father had died before she was born and her mother remarried. My mother had her adoptive-father, a half-sister, a half-brother, and an uncle all sharing a household. Aunts and uncles and cousins who lived far away would often visit for extended periods of time. It was a full house filled with the sound of loving, albeit boisterous, voices.
My mother’s neighborhood was a mix of cultures. English and French. Polish, German and Armenian. Everyone shared their heritage with open hearts, along with the pride and loyalty they felt for their new country. It was a 20th century village tucked into the pocket of a large American metropolis.
At this stage in her life, my mother’s “village” is much smaller now. And like the raising of a child, caring for a parent suffering with dementia most definitely requires the help of a village. “Residents” include myself and my husband. Our family doctor along with the head nurse and medical support staff at my mother’s assisted living facility. And let’s not forget the housekeeping, kitchen and administrative staff as well. Along with her dentist and her foot doctor. And the all important hair stylist.
As village residents, we each have our primary role. Our secondary role is to keep an eye out for any change in my mother’s mental and physical abilities. And most importantly, sharing our assessments.
Without the help of our village, my road would be a much harder one to travel. Because I cannot be with my mother 24/7. Nor am I a medical expert. And trust me…while I consider myself a decent chef, you never want me to cut your hair. So, I trust my village neighbors to keep me informed and to let me know how they believe my mother is doing.
And along with the regular reports I receive, I have been gifted an additional treasure. And that is the knowledge that my mother still has a positive impact on everyone she comes in contact with. It doesn’t matter that her short-term memory is rapidly deteriorating. She still greets each person with a smile and a warm hello. People still walk away from an encounter with her feeling better about themselves. She still has the power to make someone’s day brighter by simply being around them.
And no matter that her mental and physical abilities are in decline. In our village, she is still our matriarch. She is the glue that binds us together. She is the bright spot in our day. And I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to the great lady my mother has always been.