“Have You Seen My Mother?” – Dealing with Sadness and Loss

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Are you caring for a person living with dementia (PLwD)?

Do you find yourself puzzled at times and unsure what to do when the person asks for someone who might no longer be alive?

As a care partner, you have to recognize that when your person is searching for a loved one from the past, they are likely experiencing real grief or sometimes even anger at that very moment.

What Does This Question Really Mean?

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, and the meaning of this question might even differ by gender. Questions like Have you seen my mother? or Have you seen my dad? are predominantly asked by women. Men on the other hand tend to become more disengaged and even isolated.

Unlike women, men don’t tend to vocalize their needs or what they’re missing. With dementia, males will tend to do what needs to be done to get what they’re missing. In contrast, women will try to tell you what they need, and are expecting someone to do something about it.

For most of us, mothers are the people that care for us from the beginning. Whenever we had boo boos, they were there to make the hurt go away. They represented that safe space, where we could count on their care and nurturing. If we had a need, they were likely to meet it for us.

So maybe when a person living with dementia is asking Have you seen my mother?, what they are really asking might be: Will you meet my immediate needs?

It might also be that those are the only words a PLwD can vocalize, and it may not even be about a need.

So What Can I Do to Offer Comfort?

You might try reflecting back what you hear, to let the PLwD know you got the message.

As an example, the conversation could look something like this:

  • PLwD: Have you seen my mother?
  • Care Partner: Oh, you are looking for your mother.
  • PLwD: Yes. Have you seen her?
  • Care Partner: Tell me more about your mother. (You want to try to keep the conversation going, but never lie or say things like Yes, I've seen her, as that can make the situation worse.)

When you acknowledge that you heard their question, your PLwD may start letting go of the grief or anger. Why? Because acknowledging that you heard them can offer a sense of comfort.

This step can help overcome the biggest challenge in handling grief: people don’t want to face that sense of loss alone. If we can be there for someone that has lost something near and dear to them, it will be that much easier for them to live with their new reality.

Did you find this post helpful, but you have questions or would love to have more approaches on how to offer comfort when a person experiences sadness and loss? Then join us for a LIVE webinar with Teepa on April 22 on this specific topic! Click here to secure your seat today (scroll down to Login or Register, and then click add to cart)!


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3 Comments on ““Have You Seen My Mother?” – Dealing with Sadness and Loss”

  1. Avatar

    Role play this with your family before trying it out on your PLwD. I’ve been in workshops with Teepa before and families have a hard time breaking patterns to learn this new skill. And this is a wonderful tool because it diffuses their emotional state. Very kind!

  2. Avatar

    My mother is 84 and lives with vascular dementia. Although we never hear this question, we do several times daily hear, “I’m going to my mother’s house.” “I want to go to my mother’s house.” “Would you come with me to my mother’s house?” “I have to go see my mother because I left her alone.” She also packs small bundles of clothing and personal belongings to ‘go home’. She will pace all through the house, from the back yard to the front porch to the garage … In and out of the house she goes. The behavior continues until someone takes her out for a drive. She often starts up again 1/2-hr after returning home.

    I believe she needs a more engaged level of activity to her day. As her husband and 1st election for guardian, my 85 year old father insists on determining what she does with her day … eat, watch TV (what he wants to see), listen to him talk incessantly (when she cannot even absorb a single sentence), visit his musician friends, take a drive with him when/if he wants. I also believe this behavior has been reinforced over the past 4 years by not addressing the real need for her to be more engaged in things that will hold her interest.

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