Apr 29, 2013

Pre-Alzheimer’s Memories Will Return

When that photo arrived in my email, it jolted me back to a place I had buried. That moment of recognition drove straight to my heart, reigniting a spark of hope and relief.

By Linda Halstead-Acharya
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Memories Will Return
It’s been more than a year since my sister and I sat on the edge of my mother’s bed and told her not to worry, we would always love her, she was free to take leave.

Within hours, on that chill day in December of 2011, she passed away from complications of advanced Alzheimer’s disease.

But yesterday, when I picked up the photo – the one showing my mother with outstretched arms, jumping to the beat of the live band that played beyond the scope of the picture – it took me aback.

That same photo first stole my breath away only a day or two after my mother’s passing. It had arrived in my email, sent with several other photos from a family friend.

The instant I opened the file, the image began to blur – not from poor focus but from the tears that suddenly distorted my vision.

For anyone who had never met my mother, my friend’s camera captured nothing remarkable. Like so many snapshots, the image was cluttered with a few-too-many people and fractured by an uneven background.

But for anyone who KNEW my mother, the “busy-ness” dissolved as her likeness grabbed center stage.

A candid shot taken in a split second, the photo captured so perfectly the energy that my mother EXUDED in life. With her head thrown back, her mouth grinning wide and her arms reaching into the air, her infectious dance personified pure, unadulterated joy. Her passion was palpable, almost instinctual.

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For all her life, my mother loved music. I can still picture her twisting to Chubby Checker and swaying to Brazil 66. She rocked to the 70s music of my older brother’s band and later still, she throbbed to the beat of Dave Weckl’s drum solos.

When Alzheimer’s disease began to toy with her mind, I tried music to rekindle that ecstasy.

When I took her for drives, I’d crank up the tunes the way she once loved to hear them. Early on, she’d grin and move with the rhythm. Later on, I’d take her hand in mine and together we’d tap out the beat.

But as the disease twisted deeper into the recesses of her grey matter, those impulses faded. And as they did, sadly, so faded my attempts revive them.

* * * * *

By the time my mother passed into a place of peace, many of my memories of her – including her passion for music -- had numbed. Day after day, like a Chinese water torture, my mother's Alzheimer’s disease had clouded my own recollections of her.

So when that photo arrived in my email, it jolted me back to a place I had buried.

That moment of recognition drove straight to my heart, reigniting a spark of hope and relief.

Though the emotion was fleeting, the photo confirmed that the spirit of my once-vibrant mother will not remain buried forever. Just as her exhuberance dominated the picture, so it pierced through my clouded memories.

The woman who danced with wild abandon will come back to visit me.

Linda Halstead-Acharya is a former reporter for the Billings Gazette in Billings, Montana, and is now a freelance writer working on a book about her experience with Alzheimer's disease. Before losing her mother to advanced Alzheimer's disease in December 2011, she provided support for her father, her mother's prime caregiver.

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