Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Lost Before Death

Losing Mom To Dementia

A year ago, after several years of increasing forgetfulness, my mom had trouble remembering anything that had just been said. Her long-term memory was still good, and I could ask her about events in the past. But she no longer wanted to work on a new painting. We were beginning to lose her.

Six months ago, mom no longer wanted to talk about her memories. I didn’t know if she no longer cared or if it was too much work. I could joke around with her in the morning, but by the afternoon she just stared out the window, lost somewhere inside, and I began to grieve.

She wasn’t eating much and had grown thin. By encouraging her, dad and I managed to get her to eat a little breakfast, a little lunch, and some of her dinner.

A viral infection sent her to the hospital, then to a nursing rehab facility, then to a retirement home that dealt with Alzheimer memory care. She seemed bored and distant, and wanted to go on a trip some place, any place, although she didn’t know where. When we wouldn’t take her, she said she understood why people killed themselves.

The infection came back, the doctors ran out of ideas, and mom was moved into hospice care. When I drove up to visit her, she knew I was someone familiar, but I don’t know if she remembered I was her son. Now and then a bit of her spark would return for a moment before she faded away. Sometimes she would hold on to your arm and not want to let go. She would look you in the eyes for long minutes without saying anything.

On my last visit she was sleeping. I waited until she stirred, then talked about the shadows in her room and how she was doing. She answered my questions by murmuring two sounds for yes, and one for no, never opening her eyes. Eventually I asked if she wanted to go back to sleep, she said yes.

For the last year, every time I drove the four hours to see her, I played a CD with the song “Gone” by Jim Chappell, a solo piano piece. I cried on my way there, and I cried on the way back because so much of her had disappeared.

When mom died, my strongest feeling was one of relief for her because she was anxious to get on with things. If she could no longer do anything here, she wanted to travel on to what came next.

There is gone, and there is gone. There is grief for someone who is dying, and there is that moment when the door finally closes the rest of the way.


  1. The final farewells with a loved one's slow end of life truly is conflicting with emotions. You expressed those emotions very well, Mark. My Judy's last days in hospice were times of limited alertness so our conversations moved from memories to simple loving wishes for peace and happiness in what followed. She would say "don't be sad, Peter. Are you going to sell the house now and go travel and have fun?" Only two days before she died she asked the Chaplin "why am I here?" She knew the literal reason, but I believe she was asking why she too could not just get on with things. So fearless and courageous.

    1. When someone is used to doing things all her life, it's not surprising that she would want to move on to the next thing. Them moving on also frees us to move on, I suppose, even though we don't want to. I'm with you in this, Pete.

  2. Doors closing. It's hard to watch. So much of you wants to keep the door open. Just a crack. Just in case something might change.

    1. Just in case. You are, Robin. Just in case.