Tag Archives: memories

‘All the Little Things’ caregiving photo essay delivers big emotional impact

Highlighting the challenges that come with caring for a family member in which you have a difficult relationship dynamic is an issue that is important to me. I discuss my own challenges when caring for my mother in my book, The Reluctant Caregiver.

Lori Grinker has created a moving, powerful photo essay, “All the Little Things,” which is about caring for her mother Audrey. The mother and daughter faced a trifecta of challenges: Audrey was already dealing with dementia when she was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Grinker and her mother had always had a strained relationship, but the pandemic delayed a move into an assisted living facility, so mother and daughter lived together for three months. Grinker not only captures images of her mother, but of objects in her mother’s apartment. Those objects sparked memories and discussions that allowed the pair to open up the lines of communication more.

One of the objects that jumped out at me was the worn baking sheet. I remember my mother having a similar favorite baking sheet that she never wanted to discard no matter how discolored it became.

Grinker’s work was awarded the 2022 Bob and Diane Fund Grant. Grinker was also recently interviewed by NPR.

Life isn’t a Hallmark movie, so one shouldn’t expect an “all is forgiven” ending. Grinker told NPR that she and her mother were able to find some love for each other and most importantly, Grinker says she no longer harbors anger for her mother’s actions. She told NPR even if she cannot forgive her mother for some things, she now understands some of her mother’s life choices better.

Audrey died in March 2021.

Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash.

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Happy Halloween

I have fond memories of Halloween as a child. My mom went out of her way to make it a fun holiday for me. One year my mom made me a homemade Planet of the Apes costume. I’m so sad there are no photos of my mother’s epic creation. Another year I got a Jaws game, where you fished items out of a plastic shark replica with a hook and tried to avoid the jaws shutting. It was one of my favorite games.

40-plus years later, I still enjoy Halloween: the spooky decorations, the scary movies and yes, the candy. Pets also make Halloween fun.

For those who celebrate, hope you get all treats and no tricks! If you need a last-minute Halloween gift, you can buy Slow Dog as an e-book.

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Reflecting on Father’s Day

Thinking of Dad on this Father’s Day weekend. One thing I’ve been reflecting on lately is how even when my father was dealing with the latter stages of dementia, he would tell my mother and I to be careful. He was still trying to protect his family.

To those who have lost their fathers to dementia or who are actively caring for their father with dementia, I hope you can find comfort in loving reflections. For those whose fathers are still alive, I hope you get to spend quality time with him this weekend. Finally, I want to recognize all of the amazing male caregivers out there, fathers and husbands and brothers and sons, who care with compassionate strength.

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Marking 7 years since Mom’s death

The top of Mom’s urn.

It has been 7 years since my mother died. The pandemic has made time’s passing more difficult for me to track. Seven years feels both not long ago and yet another lifetime ago. I think my mother would be very upset about the state of the world right now, as she always looked for common ground and the good in people. Those things seem to be in short supply these days.

I did have a moment of synchronicity today. I was listening to Glenn Campbell’s late masterpiece albums, Ghost on the Canvas. It was recorded after Campbell’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and was one of my mother’s favorite albums. It’s one of my favorites too, and I’ve listened to it dozens of times. Today I played it on the YouTube app on my TV and when I looked up during one of the instrumental interludes, I realized the song was titled, May 21, 1969.

I had never noticed this before! According to information I found online, May 21, 1969 was the date the date Campbell’s network variety show debuted on network TV. It would become a hit and known as “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.”

What are the chances that May 21, the day my mother died, would also be in a song title of one of our favorite albums? The moment felt like Mom’s spirit connecting with me through the wonders of the universe.

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Growing around grief

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

“Growing around grief” is not a new concept but I saw this image being shared across social media recently and thought it might resonate with others.

Dr. Lois Tonkin described the growing around grief process in a 1996 article. The concept is that our grief may not feel like it lessens over time, but our lives will grow around that grief.

You can see another visual depiction of this grief model in the TikTok video below. I like the idea that our grief, while sad and heartbreaking, can become the core of something beautiful.

@amagiovany

My interpretation of this model. Picturing this in my head has been helpful. #watercolor #artistsoftiktok #therapytiktok #griefandloss

♬ Only in My Dreams – The Marías

You can see more visual depictions of the growing around grief model on the what’s your grief website.

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Reflecting upon 10 years since my father’s death

It has been 10 years since my father’s death. So much has happened in the past decade, but I’ll never forget where I was when my mother called with the worst news of my life, in the middle of the newsroom at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I had been waiting for that awful call for quite some time, and some part of me wished for it, because it pained me so much to see my father suffering in the late stages of dementia. But of course there was no immediate sense of relief upon my father’s passing, just sadness and regret.

I do still carry feelings of regret and guilt to this very day, and probably always will. I discuss this at length in The Reluctant Caregiver, and urge others not to judge themselves too harshly. In that spirit, I am taking a look back on what my father inspired me to do over the last decade.

  • I began this blog, The Memories Project. What began as a way to document memories of my father and process my grief has become the foundation of my dementia and caregiver advocacy platform. I have also met so many fellow caregivers through the blog and am grateful for their wisdom and their support.
  • I wrote a book, which was a life goal of mine. My collection of personal essays on family caregiving, The Reluctant Caregiver, won a gold medal at the IPPY Awards. An essay from that collection won the Rick Bragg Prize for Nonfiction from the Atlanta Writers Club. A story I wrote about my father, “French Toast,” was included in the Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias collection. I know my dad, a lifelong lover of books, would be proud.
  • I finally made it to Ireland and visited my father’s hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland. This was at the top of my bucket list and has been one of the best experiences of my life.
  • The privilege of sharing my father’s story through a variety of outlets, including NPR, AlzAuthors, Caring Across Generations and the Aging in America conference.

The decade since my father’s death has been the most difficult of my life, but also the most rewarding. I hope that you can take time this holiday season to recognize and reflect upon the highs amidst the lows of your own caregiving journey. Give yourself the grace that you deserve.

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Preserving Memories With a Loved One—Questions to Ask Before it’s Too Late — The Diary of An Alzheimer’s Caregiver

Most of us think we have more time than we actually do … So many times, after my mom passed, I wished I’d asked her about this person or that event. – Stacy Monson

So true! The Memories Project began as a way to honor my father and the further I went in documenting my father’s stories, the more I realized I was missing important details. That is why I urge everyone to ask your loved ones to recount their life stories and anything else they want to share. It’s so easy now, literally a tap on a smartphone button, and you can record these precious memories.

Read the blog post along with a great list of questions to get you started by clicking the link below:

Preserving Memories With a Loved One—Questions to Ask Before it’s Too Late — The Diary of An Alzheimer’s Caregiver

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A lesson on how grief impacts our memories of traumatic events

The 20th anniversary of 9/11 is coming up and there will be many powerful reports, essays, and accounts written to mark the somber occasion. Remarkable pieces have been published over the years about 9/11, such as The Falling Man. An essay published in The Atlantic recently is one of the most well-written and moving accounts I’ve ever read. On the surface it’s about a family’s struggle with losing a loved one on 9/11, but peeling back the layers with both compassion and clarity, Jennifer Senior reveals much more than meets the eye.

One of the more interesting aspects of the essay to me is the impact that trauma and grief have on our memories. It’s a lesson that may serve dementia caregivers well. Getting the details just right may not be as important as how we are able to process past traumatic events in the here and now. Sometimes remembering a specific word is less important than conveying the meaning and emotion of the message.

Another important lesson learned from this family’s heartbreaking experience is that grieving can cause us to act in ways we don’t intend. Communication can become difficult. It’s important to give those who are grieving space to process what they are feeling. Be a compassionate listener. This essay captures in vivid detail just how different the grief process can be for members of the same family.

The 9/11 anniversary is coming at a time when our nation is reeling from the deadly coronavirus pandemic. There are many of us grieving right now. I would encourage all of us to remember that as we go through our daily interactions. A moment of kindness can make a big difference.

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Marking Dad’s 89th birthday

Today would have been Dad’s 89th birthday. This year will mark 10 years since his passing. It’s hard to believe that much time has gone by, and how much the world has changed in just a decade.

I’ve always loved this series of photo booth shots. I wasn’t an entirely cooperative model but Dad’s beaming smile makes up for it. Dad rarely smiled in photos as he was self-conscious about his teeth, so the wide smiles in these shots are extra precious. He was definitely a proud papa.

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Grief at the holidays

mom-dad-xmas

Whenever I learn of someone’s passing during the holiday season, I feel an extra pang of sympathy. Losing a loved one at any time of the year is devastating, of course. But there is something about loss during a period of such joy for others that is particularly painful.

Today it has been eight years since my father’s death. So much has happened since then, yet it’s still hard to believe that it has been so long since his passing. I remember how odd the Christmas decorations and Christmas music blaring everywhere seemed to be after I learned the news of my father’s passing. It’s a tough lesson to learn in such a fragile state: the world goes on without your loved one.

If you find yourself grieving this holiday season, cut yourself some slack. Don’t feel obligated to put on a happy front. There are many others just like you who feel conflicted emotions during this time of year. Hopefully over time, some happier memories will filter in through the grief. If you know someone who has lost someone during the holidays, reach out to them and offer your support.

I hope you and your loved ones have a holiday filled with peace and love.

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