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HORIZON BLOG

Sad Memories

Question 

My mother died recently at 87 years and the memories that I have of her are rather sad. She died from Alzheimer’s Disease and the last seven years of her life were not the best. I see her confused, wetting herself, and completely dependent on others for even basic functions. 

I guess that it is a blessing that her life has come to a close, because seeing her that way was not much fun. When I see people enjoying time with an elderly parent, I am a bit sad that my memories are of disease, combined with some relief that our mom is gone. 

I do not want to feel this way, but I do, because of the last years of her life. Is this normal? 

 

Answer 

When the final years of a person's life is as you described your mother’s to be with Alzheimer's Disease, there can be some relief when it comes to a close as hers did. Having your memories of her be those of the last seven years is also quite common, as the recent past is in sharper focus in your mind. 

The brain is an interesting organ that tends to have the sharpest recall of the recent past. It is possible though to bring other memories of your mother into greater focus in your memory. You can create a bit of balance in your mind with just a bit of effort and time. 

Most families have old photos, cards, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, recipes, clothing, or other items that carry memories. Start with photos. Rather than placing photos in a box and sitting on a shelf, look at each photo and remember when it was taken and details about the event the picture was captured for. Reminisce about the photo with another family member if possible. Talking about the events surrounding the picture taking will bring back those memories stronger than they were before. Bringing the past into sharper focus will not erase the later years of your mother’s life, but it will give more balance to your memories. Place a few of those photos in frames, so that when you walk by, you see your mother in the prime of her life.  

Another wonderful way to reframe your memories, or even create new ones, is to look through any cards, letters, scrapbooks that your mother may have saved. Women of her generation often saved items like that. They can open a window to her past that you may never have seen before. Sometimes old letters are the most interesting and may give you an even greater insight into your mother’s past. 

Using a tool or kitchen utensil of your mother’s when you cook will bring back memories each time you use it. Keeping a few of those items in your kitchen is a wonderful memory and nice reuse of a likely antique.  

Another way to remember mother is by preparing meals that you remember your mother making when you were young. This process can bring back powerful memories. It does not matter if you have the exact recipe. A little internet search can locate a recipe for you that is close enough. Make one meal a week that your mother made and tell those sharing that meal with you how and when your mother made the meal. Send pictures to your siblings if you have them in a group text. Get and keep the dialog going.  

Another idea is to engage in activities that she enjoyed. For example, planting a favorite rose bush, tree, or even annuals that she likes will bring back strong memories. Visiting a park, lake front, cabin, or light house that she frequented will help to rebuild past memories. 

Your mother had a life before Alzheimer's Disease, and you can bring balance to your memories of her and those times. It will be most satisfying to engage in a bit of a stroll down memory lane. Do give yourself the time and space to do that. It will be healing and rewarding for you and your siblings. It will not erase the last seven years, but it will help reshape and make her memory more than the disease that took her from you.   

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