This Is The Story

"Grace"--original watercolor by artist Lorraine Danza, now owned by Marylin Warner

“Grace”–original watercolor by artist Lorraine Danza. The painting is now owned by Marylin Warner and shared with her granddaughter, Grace.

My father died of Alzheimer’s on March 2, 2009. As he slipped into dark confusion during the final years of his life, much of my mother began to slip away, too. Dementia blurred her short- term memory, and she stopped writing, meeting with friends, and participating in the church that always meant so much to her. Some of the same nursing staff who’d cared for my dad also became her caregivers.

Four years ago, I promised my mother I would drive from Colorado to Kansas every month to visit her. I’ve missed only five months, and when we talked on the phone, she didn’t seem to realize my absence. The tide was turning, and during the past year I’ve often wondered if my long drives between Colorado and Kansas are making a difference for her.
The only thing I’m certain of each month is that within a few hours after I leave, Mom won’t remember I was there.

But I remember.

And I want my daughter and my grandchildren to remember, too, what an amazing grandmother and great-grandmother they have.
Oscar Wilde wrote that memory is the diary we all carry with us. These letters to my mother, Mary Elizabeth Hoover Shepherd, are excerpts from a diary of our visits each month, and the surprising gifts they unwrapped for me about my mother’s life ~ the life that has so strongly influenced my own.

60 responses to “This Is The Story

  1. I say “Thank you” with tears in my eyes. You are a beautiful writer and a beautiful daughter, mother and grandmother. Everyone who visits your blog is blessed.

  2. My goodness …I can hardly breathreading this filled with emotion. Having helped nurse my father back from cancer this past year along side my mom, I know some of what you must be feeling. I also watch my parents age and they are not as spry. Memory not as sharp …your mind immediately goes to the worst scenario.

  3. Sarah Emerson

    Marylin — I admire you for the legacy that you are leaving your children, grandchildren, and maybe even great-grandchildren! Your blog is also an awesome gift to your faithful readers. Thank you. My sister will be sixty-one in December. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2005. It is always so very difficult for me to go visit her at the nursing home in Sedgwick, KS. I know from my conversations with Molly that my sister, Annie, is in a much worse ‘phase’ than your mom. I do know how difficult it must be for you! I have a two-hour drive, and usually find myself crying the entire way home! I, too, believe that Annie doesn’t remember I was there shortly after I leave. I go visit her for my sake, and I will always remember the Annie who touched so many lives with her special kindness and acts of love. Thank you, Marylin, for sharing your stories.

  4. You are such a beautiful writer! I wish to sit with you and hear from you, a wonderful daughter…

  5. I live in Norway and my mother in America, I guess thats why I got so close to my mother-in-law (who lives here) She really helped me out those first years (I’ve been here for over 20 now) and has been a wonderful grandma to all my children (three from my first marriage, two with her son).
    She too has been afflicted with Dementia and I’ve had to watch my friend/mother slowly slip away from us…
    I know only too well what you’re going through and commend your efforts. This blog is a wonderful idea!
    All the best to you and your mom.

    • Thank you, Maggie. Norway, North America…wherever and whenever our mothers struggle with dementia (or in my dad’s case, Alzheimer’s), it’s a comfort to hear from others. All the best to you and your mother, too.

      And to all of you who have responded recently to “This Is The Story,” thank you.

  6. A lovely blog!

    I am so close to my mom, who is turning 89 this year. I’m caregiving for her, though except for some sight issues (and short-term memory problems that we’re both finding amusing) she’s no care at all. I moved both my mom and dad in with me and my husband in 2003 and Dad passed a few years ago from lung cancer. He chose to stay at home. I can honestly say that I was not prepared to be the main caregiver to a man I love so much, but if two parents had “paid it forward”, they had. Married for 62 years, Mom’s biggest hurdle is the absence of the love of her life.

    I applaud your blog and will quit typing now so I can press “follow”. :)

    • Special thank you’s to Lisa Ann, Maggie, Mysterystar, Sarah, Kellie and Vivian for your kind words. Your examples touched me as well, reminding me that some of our experiences with our parents are very similar, and we are, at some level, all in this together. Thank you.

  7. I am touched when I read this – a reminder once again to cherish the things dear to us while we still can. Kudos to this blog, you, and your mom! :)

  8. Maryline, my thanks to you as a both a mother and a daughter myself (my parents are both gone now) for the love and devotion that comes poring from your poignant words. I understand, I’m very pleased to be able to follow you and your blog, Penny

  9. These letters are precious, so full of love and honor.

  10. Your writing is so beautiful, this experience is…there are no words, I’ve been reading your posts and I teared up on every one. Thankyou so much for sharing your life, this is remarkable.:)

  11. Beautiful tribute to your mother and a great Idea to write those precious memories down. My father has been recently experiencing Alcoholic dementia it has been gut wrenching, I appreciate the tenderness and love that comes through your writing about your Mom and hearing about your visits. It reminds me of the strong thread of love and to remember always compassion.

  12. I’m sorry for what you’re facing with your father. Regardless of the cause, the long process is, indeed, gut wrenching. I hope you’ll be able to settle into a pattern that helps you both find and hold on to the strong thread of love.

  13. Your blog touched me, I lost my mum 9 days after her 84th Birthday, there were many things I wanted to tell her and still do, she passed away with cancer. Thank you for stopping by on my photography blog. take care.
    .

    • Thank you, Walter. There are always things we want to tell those we’ve lost, but if your mother ever saw any of your photography I’m sure she knew and understood her son’s talent. The pictures on your site are insightful, sensitive and amazing.

  14. Marylin, your blog is breathtaking. Thank you writing.

  15. My mother also suffers from dementia/Alzheimer’s and I don’t live nearby. You are in good company. I recently participated in a video spot for http://www.ahaf.org which will be airing sometime early next year. I will post it on my blog. We told stories as you write letters. Blessings and thanks for stopping at my blog too.

  16. Hello Marylin. First and foremost, you have a lovely blog. I am inspired by your dedication to visit your mother and keep her memories alive for your future generations. Secondly, thank you very much for visiting my blog, taking time to comment, and for liking several posts. I truly appreciate you taking the time to do so. Please stop by and visit again soon!
    Blessings, Robyn

  17. Thank you for visiting my blog, Marilyn, and leading me back here! What a beautiful legacy you are leaving for your children and grandchildren. I will be back to read more! Hope you’re having a lovely Christmas.

    • Thanks, Rachael. And now my daughter and grandchildren are taking part in the legacy, as “guest bloggers” and storytellers of things they remember. Thanks for visiting, and please come again.

  18. Dear Marilyn, Blessings to you and your mother . . . I look forward to reading more of your story. Ellen

    • Thank you, Ellen. During my visits with my mother, I’ll be reading your wonderful poetry to her. As a former poet, she will love your writing style and the beauty you find in everyday blessings. We’re following your blog now so we don’t miss any of these gems!

  19. As I read this, tears flowed from my eyes. My father suffered from dementia before he passed away last March. There are times that he can’t remember who I am or he can’t recognize me, life is too short so let’s try to spend time as much as we can with our aging parents.

  20. It’s a sad time of life, watching our parents leave us. But the joys of memory that we carry in our hearts can never be taken away. It’s such a treasure to pass them along to your children! I know they’ll thank you, like I thanked my own mom for this same gift.

    • I certainly hope so. Our daughter and grandchildren have been active participants in some of these stories, and though they wouldn’t mean much to my mother, I think they’ll mean more and more to her grandchildren and great-children as time goes on. Thanks for visiting, and please join us again.

  21. I have nominated you for a Beautiful Blogger Award. I appreciate how you continue your relationship with your mother and for sharing your journey in living as gracefully as you can together as a family dealing with Alzheimers

    If you wish to accept, please visit my blog for further details http://compostingwords.net/2013/01/12/beautiful-blogger-award-thanks-to-these-bloggers-for-adding-beauty-to-the-world/

  22. God bless you – my mother in law had Alzheimer’s and I understand what you are going through. It was and still is difficult for my DH, although she passed away about 8 yrs ago. You are doing a good thing with this blog and with each piece you write I pray that you are comforted. Hugs – Patty

    • Thank you so much, Patty. Some topics are harder than others to write about, but each time I write I feel hopeful that my mother will live on long after the dementia has claimed her memories.

  23. Hi Marylin,,
    Im so pleased you visited my blog so I was able to find yours.

    This is very moving and I can relate as my mother went on a similar journey.
    And though she died in 1997 the memories of that time are as vivid as ever. But the good thing is, so are the memories before its onset. And there were times during the sad journey when she could almost get a glimpse of herself from the outside and was able to laugh at something “silly” she had done or said. The connection we were able to grab hold of for a minute or two on those occasions was very special.

    Christibe

  24. That should say Christine! Sorry, I blame my IPad :)

  25. My father also died in 2009, from dementia – in his last few years we watched our larger than life, always smiling, ready for fun Dad dwindle away to nothing. It was heart-breaking. You have a very interesting and touching blog – thank you for finding me on mine.

  26. I think I may have passed by once before but it was a short visit! :) Perhaps I just needed to face what you have faced to make me really stop. My in-law are going through memory issues and I keep thinking about all they have been to us and our children. It’s difficult to keep the memories alive, especially in those great-grandchildren who never had the privilege to meet them. Appreciate your heart, photos and writings! Thanks for sharing!

    • Welcome back. I’m sorry you’re going through this with your in-laws now.
      Even though the great-grandchildren don’t know them or how they were before this, even telling them (or writing to them about) one special event or something they said or did, will help keep a detail of them alive.

  27. Wow. I love that you are so honest and not overly sentimental as you discuss visiting your mom – and her not remembering that you came. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog! I’ll definitely have to investigate your more.

    • Thanks, Gretchen. In recording these stories and memories of my mother for her great-grandchildren, I try to just tell the stories as they were, and though my mother has been a kind and loving woman, she hasn’t ever been sentimental.

  28. My husband and i got so peaceful that Albert managed to carry out his investigations through the ideas he made through your blog.
    It’s not at all simplistic just to find yourself giving out tips and tricks which usually many people may have been selling. And we discover we now have the website owner to give thanks to because of that. The main explanations you’ve made, the easy
    blog navigation, the relationships you can make it easier to foster – it’s everything overwhelming, and it’s
    really aiding our son in addition to the family do think the matter is interesting,
    which is exceptionally pressing. Thank you for all the pieces!

  29. Marilyn this is a beautiful blog. The mother daughter bond is a force to be reckoned with. What an amazing gift you are leaving future generations and what a treasure for yourself!

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