I'm a sandwich Mom. I'm a mom to a brilliant, wonderful 18-year-old who I love totally. I'm also these days a caregiver to my mother-in-law, a warm, delightful 87 year-old whom I love totally. Our 18-year-old is full of dreams of the future while our 87-year-old lives mostly in the past, challenged by dementia and a body that is not always able.
Interestingly, we manage to keep up with both of them these days via technology. My mother-in-law lives in the "memory care" unit of an assisted living facility not far from us. She once owned a cellphone but we gave it up a couple of years ago when she could no longer remember how to use it. She'll probably never have an iPad or a laptop. But technology is still an important part of her days in ways she's not even aware of. On days when we can't visit, my husband gets texts and occasional photos that let us know Mom's OK. Communications between the aides at her care center and her doctors often occur virtually, saving us multiple doctor visits and Mom the trauma of leaving a place and routine that have finally become comfortable for her. We show her photos and videos on our smartphones and, even though she might not remember what she's seen, they seem to make her happy.
Thankfully, technology is second nature to our 18-year-old. This is her first year away at college and, like most empty-nesting parents, we've gone through the predictable phases of "letting go". At first, we texted, phoned and Skyped her incessantly. But, as her freshman year concludes, we've relaxed (a little bit) but we still rejoice over her texts, calls, photos, and the occasional Skype. Our conclusion is that texts are good, photos are better, calls are great and any call with video (Skype happens to be our choice) is spectacular.
I can't imagine having to "let go" as radically as my parents did when I left home and their only contact with me was by letter, which I don't recall writing very often.
I can imagine, because I lived through it with my own Mom who died of Alzheimer's, how much more difficult it was to manage a loved one's care before the introduction of the robust technologies that now support many of our elder-care systems.
So, on this Mother's Day and all the days, I'm thankful. Thankful for the extraordinary daughter who calls me Mom and for a remarkable mother-in-law who is a great Mom, even if she's pretty severely challenged these days. Thankful that technology's made it a little easier than it was when my wonderful Mom was suffering from Alzheimer's. And hopeful. Hopeful that ever emerging technologies may help us "let go" while staying better connected than ever. Happy Mother's Day to all.
Diane Smith serves on the board of Mobile Future (mobilefuture.org) and was co-founder and chief executive officer of a ground-breaking IPTV and advanced media services company in Kalispell, Montana.