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A different Mother’s Day this year

For folks who don’t live in the same home with their elderly parents, the COVID-19 pandemic has been hard.

It’s especially hard when that parent has Alzheimer’s, like Gloria Womble’s mother, Margret Kightlinger. Womble, a North Suffolk resident, is planning a special celebration for Mother’s Day, although it will be quite unusual.

On most Mother’s Days, Womble’s sister, Diana Kightlinger, has come from Montana to visit and they spend some time together as a family. But this year, Womble’s sister won’t be coming, and Womble plans to see her mother from a distance at Riverside Healthy Living Community in Smithfield, which is planning a parade.

“I hope that Mom will recognize us when we drive past,” Womble said. “If nothing else, we’ll take the dog, and she’ll recognize the dog.”

Womble and her husband have been visiting through the window about once a week since the pandemic started and visitation to nursing homes was restricted. They’ve been taking their dog when they do so, which delights her mom. She also does a video call a couple of times a week.

Either of those options, though, requires staff assistance, and Womble said she has tried to be respectful of their time. Previously, she would visit her mother about three or four times a week and stay hours at a time.

“It’s very bittersweet, but I guess you just have to be thankful your mom is still living and she’s well,” Womble said.

Womble said her family first realized her mother had dementia about seven years ago. Her father passed away in 2014, and after that, she was moved to the Smithfield facility in 2017.

Gino Colombara, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association Southeastern Virginia Chapter, said it’s important for families to have good relationships with facilities during this time, because the ongoing conversation about their loved one’s care, and getting assistance in connecting virtually with their loved one, is important.

“That support is so critical, especially now where people can’t come into the homes to help as was happening prior to this situation,” Colombara said.

He also reminded those who are caring for a family member at home that there are resources available through alz.org/seva as well as a 24-hour hotline, 1-800-272-3900.

“They can reach out and talk things through with a professional who can help them navigate any kind of situation they may be dealing with,” he said.

Alzheimer’s Association Program Director Katie McDonough said many people are trying to come up with creative ways to connect virtually.

“It’s incredibly stressful for them not to connect and not to be there,” she said, adding that many family members harbor an almost unspoken fear — that their family member will forget them after so long, even if they still remembered them before the pandemic.

Womble said she and her sister had to change their plans this year. Her sister sent a card and bought their mom some new blouses. Their mom will also receive flowers and some special food items Womble purchased.

And Womble will be in the parade on Sunday. But even when restrictions are lifted, she and her husband plan to take it slowly getting back to personal visits.

“We’re going to continue to be very careful for the foreseeable future,” she said.

The Alzheimer’s Association offered some tips for Mother’s Day celebrations.

If your mom lives with you:

  • Take a person-centered approach. Focus on what is enjoyable for the person with Alzheimer’s, such as looking at family pictures or enjoying the person’s favorite food.
  • Keep it simple. Consider a celebration over a lunch or brunch at home.
  • Don’t overdo it. Sticking to the person’s normal routine will help keep the day from becoming disruptive or confusing.

For virtual celebrations:

  • Connect with mom virtually. Schedule a FaceTime, Skype or Zoom call with mom and invite other family members to participate. Prepare ahead of time to ensure the platform you use is one your mom can access easily. Consider taking the call to the next level by adding a slideshow with favorite pictures of mom and cherished family photos.
  • Have brunch “to-go.” Mother’s Day brunch is a tradition for many families. While taking mom to her favorite restaurant may not be an option this year, consider having it delivered. Many restaurants may even offer special Mother Day’s menus.
  • Clean up the yard. If mom is still living at home, consider organizing family members to do yard work, plant flowers or other outdoor spring cleaning activities. Doing so allows families to gather while practicing social distancing.