‘MOTHER (and me)’ by Melinda Buckley

Solo play arises from a caregiver’s therapeutic writings throughout a decade of walking with her mom through dementia
‘MOTHER (and me)’ by Melinda Buckley

What is MOTHER (and me) and how did it come to be? 

MOTHER (and me), is a solo play. Inspired by my experience as a long-distance caregiver for my Hungarian mom, Ilona, on her 10-year dementia journey. One of the things that helped me the most during that difficult time was to journal about what I was going through. 

…to encourage other people who are on this journey, that no matter how hard it is, they will get through it and if they are lucky, as I was, they may find gifts on the other side.

Melinda Buckley

I was in a writer’s group at the time, and since this was what I was writing about, I brought it to my group. I also read it in my acting class, where my teacher, the legendary Wynn Handman, encouraged me to turn my writings into a theatrical piece. I eventually brought it to my friend and solo performance teacher, Matt Hoverman. Early in the development process, he asked what my intention was. What I found myself saying was: “…to encourage other people who are on this journey, that no matter how hard it is, they will get through it and if they are lucky, as I was, they may find gifts on the other side.” 

Now, several years and many productions later, I continue to perform my show, and each time I reconnect with this intention. I also always reach out to the local Alzheimer’s Association or other caregiving groups, to offer talkbacks or fundraisers alongside the show. I find there is great strength in community, and in fact, I have co-opted a slogan from a favorite organization, Cape Cod Alzheimer’s Family Support Center: “Until there’s a cure, there’s community.”

What initially inspired you to grapple with dementia? 

As a caregiver especially in the beginning, it was overwhelming. Learning about the disease, navigating the health care system, organizing finances—and the emotional tsunami of losing this person who had been my rock for my entire life—it was all too much. At the time, it was hard to access support groups so I just started to write about my experience. And then, it became even more therapeutic to share about it through the show, to find so many other people also going through this. 

My mother’s diagnosis, and my entrée into the role of caregiver, was life-changing for me. Now, I’m determined to help others get through it. No one should walk this path alone.  

How has the work been received? 

I want to make an important note here to say that my show is funny! And funny is not what you typically think when you hear the word, Alzheimer’s. But life, no matter how hard, has its funny moments, and WELL, I capitalize on them. On top of that, my Mom was such a character and very funny herself! 

People are often surprised to find themselves laughing and experiencing joy in my show, but like life, those elements are embedded in the experience. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t shy away from the hard things, but when we can also laugh, we can hold the difficult moments in a different way. 

I’m grateful that just about every review has said some version of “heartwarming, heartbreaking and hysterical.” My friend, Celeste Lecesne, one of the best solo performers, as per the New York Times, said this of the show: “It’s hard to believe that a show about losing a parent to Alzheimer’s could be filled with so much joy and laughter, but this is Melinda’s genius!” 

How has working on dementia-related art changed you?

As you are well aware, with dementia you mostly have just the “present” moment. It’s an exercise in being in the now. Sitting outside on a beautiful day with my Mom would bring us both such delight as we watched the birds or experienced a warm breeze. It also taught me to seize the moment. In a way, caring for someone in the late stages of their life, reinforced how precious it all is and encouraged me to take more chances, open my mouth and take a stand. I realized the time to make a difference is always now

This work is dedicated to: my Mom. 

Find more about MOTHER (and me) on the website.

What is a Spotlight?

The Dementia Arts Spotlight promotes visual and performing artists who are grappling with dementia through original work or innovative arts programs. The Spotlight—in a Q&A format where artists describe the details and significance of their work or program—connects each artist to the Dementia Spring community. Find examples of prior Dementia Arts Spotlights here. Know of an artist whose work should be Spotlighted? Send them this link!

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