Becoming a mum has made me appreciate the love my mum has for me
Mother’s Day is a wonderful celebration of our love for our mums and everything they have done for us, but for anyone whose mum has been affected by dementia it can be a difficult time. Here supporter Emily Allen explains how becoming a mum herself has made her appreciate the love her mum has for her even though she can no longer express it.
I don’t think anyone really appreciates their mum until they become an adult themselves. Sadly, for me, as I entered my 20s, my mum, Janet, began to have serious memory issues and by my mid-20s, when she was 60, she was diagnosed with young-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
This was 12 years ago and meant that as soon as I became an adult, I no longer had a mum who looked out for me, but instead one that I needed to care for. The whole family dynamic shifted, and it had a profound impact on my early adult life and the choices I made.
During that time, I was focused on what I needed to do to help Dad and my sisters care for Mum and I protected myself by no longer thinking about Mum as my mum.
Mother’s Day was a particularly hard time as I had stopped being able to remember how she used to be, and only thought about how we would cope with the ill person we now had to look after. I think this is one of the really difficult and sad parts of Alzheimer’s, that you lose the person and have to bury your grief, but you still need to care for them.
Back in the autumn, I became a mum myself to my beautiful baby girl, Kate. Anyone who has become a mum will know it turns your whole life upside down, in the best way!
Throughout my pregnancy (the excitement, anxiety and hormones!) and throughout the first months of Kate’s life, I realised what I had lost in having a mum, and I have never missed her more.
I have so many questions about motherhood and my own childhood that I’d love to be able to ask her. How did she feel becoming a mum? Did I have a favourite toy as a baby? Any cute habits? Did she have any parenting tips? After all, I was the third baby and therefore she was well practised by the time I came along!
Yet I also feel like I have gained more than just a daughter. It has also made me understand and appreciate Mum more as a person, before her diagnosis. Even though I haven’t been able to hold a proper conversation with Mum for many years, I have never felt closer to her.
I remember Mum used to tell me how she’d push me and my sisters in our prams as babies and tell us how much we were loved, regardless of what passers-by might think. I remember lots of cuddles while watching Coronation Street together.
She would tell us regularly that we were beautiful and the most important things in the world to her.
She gave us wonderful altruistic values and told us the most important thing is to be kind and give more to the world than you take.
Today, Mum is in a care home where she is content and well cared for but largely unresponsive. I took Kate to meet her in November which was one of the most emotional days of my life.
I wanted to introduce them to each other as you never know when it will be too late. Mum was dressed but lying in bed and couldn’t even make eye contact with her.
But this visit was the first time I had been able to talk to Mum as a mum myself, so I told her everything I needed to say.
I told her that I realise that as a mum you just want your child to be happy – and I am really happy. That she did a great job of raising me and I’m sorry I didn’t appreciate her more when I was younger, but I do now.
I told her that I understand now how incredibly painful it must have been to know she was going to forget her own children during the slow decline that Alzheimer’s brings.
I told her that Kate’s middle name is Janet, and we call her KJ to keep the name going and remember her.
I told her that KJ has her chin – it was one of the first things my partner noticed about her in the hospital once she was born.
And, of course, I told her that I’m sorry she won’t get to enjoy being a grandma to KJ. I’m sure she would have adored her.
But I keep looking at the positives. I think I appreciate what I have with KJ even more and every day I feel honoured that I have been able to start my own family. KJ is wonderful and melts my heart every single day.
Right now I look down at KJ, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen and the biggest achievement of my life, and see my mum. And although Mum can’t tell me anymore, I now know how much love she must have felt for me.
So, this Mother’s Day will be my first happy one in many years. Because, despite my grief, I will look at KJ and know how loved I must have been.
Help end the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia
Throughout our journey with my mum’s Alzheimer’s, a great comfort to my family has been the hope that new treatments will be found to help people in the future.
Please join me in supporting pioneering dementia research that will help to keep people like my mum connected to their families, their world and themselves for longer.
About the author
Emily Allen became passionate about supporting Alzheimer's Research UK after her mum, Janet, was diagnosed with young-onset Alzheimer's disease in 2010 aged 60. Emily and her two sisters helped her dad care for her mum until she went into a care home in 2017.