History and Remembering

“What does your history with someone mean if they no longer remember it?”  My daughter asked this question on Facebook after we visited my Dad’s wife who didn’t recognize her.

Talking with someone who has been a part of your life forever and who cannot connect you as a vibrant part of that life, is disconcerting at the least.  And it can be crushing.  There is a sense that the world has tipped and that if we move into a different position it will somehow right itself.

But there is no GPS for dementia.

As we lifted our photos from the wall of her small room and held them so that she could see our faces in juxtaposition to a recorded memory, she smiled at the photos, pointed at the faces as if they were a treasury of the past; and then looked back at us with puzzlement.  Who we were and why were we there?

I am not so sad for myself.  This has been inching toward me for a few years and it accelerated with her move across the state.   I understand that there is crucial timing in this.  To remain in the forefront of this lovely woman’s mind, one must see her more often than is possible with the miles between us now.  And so the miles mirror the distance in my importance to her in her daily life.

I must believe, however, that I am still in her heart.  That the time we have shared for over 50 years has shaped her in some way as it has me.  That her life is filled with a warmth that radiates from within.  That, without tangible memories of our past together, her present joy and contentment is sustained by the love that we have given her and that she reflected back in her care of us.

And so, dear daughter, your history with your Grandmother lives on. Her love is embedded in who you are. Her delight in you is a precious treasure that you can pass on to those you love.


This was written for and originally published on Vision and Verb on March 13, 2012.


  1. I think you expressed it beautifully. Her interaction – or lack of – has to be jarring but her love for you all has been certain and deep – and consistent. I’d bet that your part in her life still gives her great joy and comfort somewhere within her being, a part of who she is, even now. And you all have her, as part of you and all that she has given you, as a cherished part of your life as well. Geez – When I read this over, I think that’s what you just wrote?


  2. While not seeing recognition in her eyes sometimes feels like a mortal blow, (something I’ve felt many times over the years, wondering with each visit if she will recognize me this time or not), her name and her beautiful self are synonymous with love and warmth to me.


  3. This post is at the crossroads of sadness and faith. I’m not experienced with dementia from my own family history (thankfully!). Anyway, I believe that we evolve our sense of reality and who we are in exchange with others crucially. Not being recognized by a significant other we’ve shared a lot of our lives with therefore must be a very disturbing and painful experience. The thought that we’re still *somehwere* in their hearts is probably the only comfort we can find in this situation.


  4. Very well written. I am able to relate to your post because of that experience. Towards the last few years of her illness, my late wife suffered from a mild form of dementia the most important aspect of which was an inability to remember faces and names. She would insist on my being around whenever someone else was present to save her the embarrassment and I inevitably did just that.


    • Thanks, Ramana. It is an interesting journey. I am convinced that in this case she is very happy. It is only those around her who must adjust in order not to suffer.


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