‘Mom thought her mother had died – that day!’: Elderly woman with dementia devastated over death of mother 70 years ago

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“We have had a lot of emotions filling the summer air lately with mom. It started the day after their 68th anniversary, which was on June 24. My sister Mary Ann brought over an old frame filled with photos of mom and her siblings and parents when they were young. Little did we know that was going to set off a very emotional day for mom. The next day she was very quiet. Paige, mom’s caregiver, took mom for a walk and stopped by the office. We went out to say hi and she was quietly crying and saying she wants to go home. At the time we weren’t sure what was going on and Paige and mom headed home.

As the day went on mom was getting more upset. Paige called us and said we may want to stop over to see mom at some point, that she was having a very tough day. She told us that mom thought her mother had died – that day! Mary Ann, her husband and son stopped by and then my daughter, Emily, and I stopped over a bit later, followed by my oldest daughter. We all rallied throughout the early evening not only to see how mom was doing but to be there for dad who can barely stand to see mom upset…

Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia

They were sitting on their porch with their afternoon/evening caregiver, Claudia. We made small talk with them but I could tell mom was sad. Finally I went over to give her a hug and kiss and she said, “Did you know my mother died today? She died and no one cares. It was so sudden and unexpected.”

My mom’s mother died in the 1950’s before I was born. I told her I didn’t know her mother but it must be hard to lose someone you love. She seemed to gather herself together and she said, “I’ll be OK.” We all stood on the porch for a bit in a sad silence. No one knowing what to say because her loss and sadness were real. We made some more small talk before giving more hugs and heading home.

Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia

When we got home and I told my husband, Tom, about mom’s day, he said, “It’s the photos you gave her yesterday.” DING, DING! That’s it. The few memories she has are from her childhood. She saw the photo of her mom and dad and her brothers and sisters and she remembered them as if it was that moment – not years and years ago. I call Mary Ann. We have to hide those photos.

The next day I stop over to visit and when she is distracted. I picked up the frame filled with memories from so long ago, carried it to the back bedroom and put it on a high shelf so she can’t see it. She has not said anything about her mother since that day.

Just when we think we have her triggers figured out, dementia throws us a curve ball. We have learned a lot over the last few years. We have learned to talk about the present. We listen when she tries to share anything with us even though it is getting harder and harder for her to put a sentence together. We smile around her. We laugh as much as we can. We keep things in place and let her do the few things that make her happy – even though it can make us crazy. We are still learning what works for mom and sometimes we are way off. We will continue to try to figure it out but I’m pretty sure there will still be days we are going to get it all wrong. On those days, we will rally once again and do our best to make it better.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Becky Gacono of Annville, Pennsylvania. She is chronicling her mother’s dementia journey on their Facebook page and in a series of posts for Love What Matters:

‘I see Dad wiping his eyes. I realize he is crying.’ Elderly man devastated his wife with dementia thought ‘everyone left her’

Wife with dementia ‘listens’ to husband’s story for 15 minutes before cracking a joke, which ‘gives him a sliver of hope she is still there’

‘His love for her is palpable’: Doting husband’s explicit instructions for wife with dementia’s morning routine

‘I never thought I’d get to kiss an angel’: Daughter overhears midnight whispers between mom with dementia and dad

‘I’ll get to her outfit later’: Daughter’s humorous attempt getting her mom with dementia to the doctor

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