My mother always raised us to understand that family is the most important thing. Whether it is your immediate/nuclear/birth family or your extended family…. they are important.
My mother lived this. As the baby of her nuclear family, she often said that she felt that she was an only child and often left out of things. However, she was the sister that helped to take care of 3 of her 4 sisters when they were sick and/or near death. She talks fondly of her nieces and nephews … some of which are closer in age to her than her siblings.
Even now, with her brain cells damaged and dementia in full swing, she often thinks of her family. She regularly asks about her parents, or one of her sisters… or sister-in-law… she talks about her nieces and nephews with great regularity. Yesterday, Jerry Lee (Jake) was the topic of conversation. Most of the time it is Katie Saintenoy or one of the Saintenoys. She is especially fascinated with that family. Now, please understand… she isn’t talking about them in a manner that makes sense or is even truthful… it is just that those names and people come to her mind and her mind makes up some story about them that she believes is real. For example: Jake was supposedly at the “senior center” and doing something with the old ladies there. Katie is her most frequent family member in stories… she gets to do all kinds of things.
HOWEVER… while I think it is OK that she loves her extended family and thinks of them. Hardly ever/never do her stories include her own children or grandchildren. She doesn’t bring them to mind as easily as she does nieces/nephews that she rarely sees. This makes me sad. I wish that she talked about her grandchildren or her children. It is almost like in her mind we do not exist… which is probably partly true since she often thinks she is still in school and lives in Akron.
I have generated a family tree, of sorts, that lists all her siblings and their spouses and their children. I wrote DEAD across all the people that are… well… dead. Today we had to reference this again… almost always when she looks at it she tells me: “You are not dead.” Which I confirm is a fact and remind her that my name doesn’t have DEAD written over it… and then I know that she thinks I’m her sister Dora. While Aunt Dorie was a lovely aunt, we hardly ever spent time with them. I didn’t know her overly well and I know that I do not look like her. They only thing we can figure is that when my mother was 10-12, Dorie would have been the only sibling still at home, so maybe she had to take care of her?
I have tried to raise my children to understand that family is important too. Sadly, that is harder and harder to do these days. Sometimes family members don’t like to “play nice” and it is hard to be around them. Sometimes you are not treated as important by family members, so it is hard to hold them up as important as well.
In 30 years… when I am making up stories and incorporating family members, the only people I envision being in my stories are my own children (and hopefully grandchildren). We hardly ever see any of our nieces and nephews and when we do, we just don’t have that close of a relationship with them. Just the way times are these days, I suppose. This makes me sad.
Family is important. It is the most important thing in your life. Without your family, you are nothing. Whether you are born into a family, adopted into a family, have chosen your own family from friends, or are in the process of making your own family, please remember that. What names and faces do you want to be in your dementia stories when you are old? Make those people important to you now.