Weekly Photo Challenge: A Blurred Life

“Dementia. Ruth puzzled over the diagnosis: How could such a beautiful-sounding word apply to such a destructive disease? It was a name befitting a goddess: Dementia, who caused her sister Demeter to forget to turn winter into spring.”
― Amy Tan, The Bonesetter’s Daughter


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Blur. As I sorted through photos for the weekly photo challenge, I discovered that I erased all of my blurred photos, except for this one taken by my mother. We were at a dance in her assisted living center and she wanted to take a photo. I lent her my camera and showed her how to push the button. But, her hands were shaking uncontrollably, and her photo showed a blurred image of two people…a caretaker and a patient with dementia enjoying a dance together.

IMG_0006My mother has Vascular Dementia with Lewy Bodies. I imagine her life is blurred like this photo. Her reluctant vocabulary and vanishing memories are held hostage in her head barricaded by plaques and tangles. Studying this photo, I see a blurred life, a mother I love disappearing and melting away like the ice-cube I dropped on the floor. As the disease advances, she becomes blurrier and more translucent, like a wisp of a ghost.

I wonder, “Do you only know yourself and others because of your memories?” Someday, she won’t recognize me. I try to prepare myself for the inevitable. That’s why I make regular trips back to the states, for I know that someday, she will look at me as a friendly visitor instead of a beloved daughter. I’m learning to say a tearful goodbye to the past, but it’s difficult.

If there is a kind of bizarre and dark bliss built into dementia, I hope my mother has it.  She seems to have an immunity to the fear of death and abandonment. She has a wicked sense of humor. When she sees monkeys in the tree outside her window and we ask her what they are doing, she says, “Monkey shines.”

My mom lives in a world of her own and we have learned the art of improvising. Why tell her otherwise? If she believes my brother is a moose hunter in Canada or I am a nurse in Africa, what difference does it make? We can go on safaris together, collect moose heads for the mantel above the fireplace, and have all kinds of strange adventures without leaving her memory care center.

I suppose this post should make me feel depressed and hopeless, but it doesn’t. I love my mother for whomever she is at the moment…and believe me, her identity can transform in a second from a special education teacher (which she never was, but I was), to a water ballet instructor, to a concert pianist. She makes me laugh, we laugh together, and life is good…even though it is entirely a make-believe world.

When my mom loses the ability to speak, I will still feel her in my heart, for connections are made in the heart and not with the tongue. She will always be my mother. For, I’ve learned that life is what we make it. It isn’t about finding or losing yourself…it’s about creating yourself, and my mother recreates herself everyday.

Life is but a beautiful dream…even a blurred life.

28 thoughts on “Weekly Photo Challenge: A Blurred Life

  1. Deb, your deep love for your Mother is so felt through this post. The humor and wisdom you share through this blog is priceless. The picture said it all. My prayers for your trip to the US and happy time bonding with your Mother. Take care.

    • Bob, today my brother brought my mom to his house for Easter dinner and we were able to Skype. Although, she told me that I looked like I needed to go to bed…she has always disliked my hair that sticks up everywhere…we laughed and laughed together. She knew who I was, although she didn’t know where I lived. Laughter is the best remedy for this horrible disease.

  2. Debbie,
    Draw your strength from faith. I do it every day. I know, although not quite understand, God’s plan is perfect. My mom lives with me, my wife and two boys, and I see that once incredibly bright light slowly fading as she reaches her 86th. Its possible God is showing me humility, teaching me patience, and showing me the future so I can do better with my present. There is purpose in everything. Love is the key, but somehow I think you know that. When you see your mom again, give her a long, long, loving hug, she will know who it is from, even if her mind doesn’t.

  3. So sorry to hear that your mom is afflicted with this baffling brain disease. It must be so hard to see her fade away, like a “wisp of a ghost”, only a ghost of her former self. The picture is so fitting in its blurriness, just as her mind has become more and more blurred….and your vision becomes blurred (through the tears). Love and hugs.

      • How old is your mom and how long has she had dementia? My grandma only had it the last few years of her life but I have heard of people getting it early in life too which would be terrible.

        • Nicole, my mother is 83 years old. We started noticing her forgetfulness about 5 years ago. She was the caretaker for her husband who had a stoke and he was also a severe diabetic. She was forgetting to give him his daily insulin shots and then she stopped cooking. That was when we really noticed her dementia. My grandmother lived with dementia for 15 years. The last 5 years of her life she was bed fast. She died a week before her 100th birthday. I read that it vascular dementia is not usually hereditary, but it scares me all the same.

  4. Your post was so heartfelt and beautifully written. Thanks for sharing both the story behind the photo as well as your positive approach summed up in the statement, “We have learned the art of improvising.” Watching my grandmother lose her present to a blur but retain her vivid past was a lesson (that I’m still learning) in accepting life in all its unexpected challenges. Moment by moment … Anita

    • Anita, dementia is such a horrible disease. I’ve learned so much about dementia through watching my beautiful mother gradually fade away. This was difficult for me to write..through many tears, but my mother is happy and loved, regardless of who she thinks she is at the moment. Thanks for caring.

  5. My mother has dementia too. It’s tough seeing her fading before my eyes. I don’t live in the same state and don’t see her as often as I would like. I also feel like one day she won’t recognize me either. She already has plenty of forgetful moments.

    Thanks for sharing your story with all of us.


    • Sunni, I’m going back to the states next month to visit my mother. My biggest fear, is that she won’t remember who I am. But, when I look at it from another perspective, I’m relieved that she doesn’t realize that several months have passed since I saw her. She thinks I’m there everyday. 🙂

  6. Debbie, this is so heartwarming and wrenching at the same time. Your blurred photo is a keepsake to be treasured and your emotional approach to your mom’s dementia is beautifully summed up. It’s alright for her to recreate herself each day and she is happy doing so.

  7. Thank you for this beautiful post full of love. I’m experiencing my own struggles at the moment with aging parents. You’ve caught the unspeakable beauty and anguish of this passage. Giant hugs, WG

  8. So powerfully written. Brought tears to my life. We are experiencing something similar with my mother and I worry about moving to Cairo and being far away from her when she is here in Canada. Each time I see her she is a little more forgetful and confused. I am happy that you can laugh. I have a ways to go until I get there but hopefully will some day. Thanks for sharing, Cheryl

    • I understand your worries, Cheryl. My mother and I used to Skype every Sunday. Now, that she is in a memory care center, I have no way to talk with her unless it is through my brother, who visits her several times a week. I miss her so much that it hurts. Yet, she knows that she is loved, and I guess that is the most important thing. Hugs to you.

      • Yes, that would be so difficult. I have my sister who visits my mother as well. I started this blog in the hope that she can read it when I am away but it seems to confuse her already. I will resort to mail. She seems to still understand that. Take care and thanks for the response. Cheryl

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