Photographs….and lost memories

One picture is worth a thousand words, as the centuries old adage goes, but not in the vanishing mind of someone with Alzheimer’s.

As this treacherous disease advances, simple things, like photographs or written words that ordinarily would jog a person’s memory, present an insurmountable obstacle to an AD sufferer….and their loved ones.

On a daily basis, my basic repertoire with my mother always involved the same questions, asking her if she knew who I was, who this or that one was when we looked at family photo albums;  the answers varied but never reflected anyone in her present life, only people in her past.  The saddest of all were her responses to my baby pictures which brought no recognition on her part, not even mistakenly identifying me with some other relative or acquaintance.

Previously, in an earlier post, I mentioned finding stacks of greeting cards that Mom had kept, many with a “?” next to whoever sent them to her; most were mine.  One day I asked her about them and Mom replied with “I don’t know who that person was who sent them but the cards were so cute; I didn’t want to throw them out”.

What did amaze me were old photos of my parents taken years before their bitter divorce; pictures I had seen countless times before but who now were minus my father…. mother had systematically cut him out of most of them.    Of course, I had to question her on this and on what happened to my father, her response?…“Oh, he was killed in the war, good riddance”.
(My father actually died in 1992 from complications of Scleroderma).

Unfortunately, I was also a part of that mental housecleaning but, heck, I had gotten used to it by now….

The reality of my mother’s condition surrounded me that first day I went back to her apartment; although neat and clean with none of the disorder that surrounds so many Dementia patients, everything was in its place except for…… photographs.
Until that one day, I never realized that the collection of framed pictures that were set everywhere in her home were gone!  When they disappeared escaped me but they no longer sat on her shelves, her tables or anywhere in her bedroom.  Thinking she must have moved them while cleaning, I started going through drawers and closets, moving boxes of holiday decorations and years of accumulated “stuff” until I came across shopping bags, stuffed into a corner, with frames sticking out.  Pictures of her family, her Grandchildren and Great-Grandchildren, all put away because she simply did not know who these people were anymore.

At least she didn’t throw them into the trash…..

Discarding belongings is a major issue for AD patients and their families.  What they cease to recognize, they simply throw, or give, away.  Worse yet, in too many family situations, there are those who take great advantage of afflicted relatives and help themselves to whatever they can get away with.

My mother’s two brothers for example…..

Aside from missing photographs, I found several of my mother’s collectible figurines missing; 3 Rosenthal “Laughing Rabbits” that I had given her years ago along with several other vintage, and valuable ceramic pieces.


Of course, Mom had no idea where they went and it was a lost cause trying to get into her closed memory banks.  Then, I thought back to a phone call from one of her larcenous brothers who called to complain that mother, during a visit to his Connecticut home, brought along bags of frozen food and canned goods.   Strange?  Not really.  In her challenged mental state, mother brought along whatever she had on hand, not wanting to visit her brother empty handed.

Perfectly logical explanation…if you knew my Mom.

Okay…back to the missing rabbits.  Using some reverse psychology, I called my uncle to discuss all that I found missing, sensing a guilty face on the other end of the line along with hearing a denial of any knowledge about the “goods”.

Two weeks later, my uncle and his wife showed up in New York, large box in hand, with the missing bunnies as well as many other of my mother’s belongings.  “Bonnie & Clyde” claimed that they just put them into their attic after my mother gave them the items but managed not to inform me when they called about the food they didn’t want.  Selective confessions, at best.

Oh, did I mention that this particular uncle dabbles in Antiques; buying, selling….. as well as pilfering?


Weeks after closing up my mother’s apartment, I discovered that brother #2 participated in the family-robbery escapades as well; various small items were billed to my mother’s address and, since he had a key to the apartment complex’s front door and to my mother’s apartment, he simply let himself in to collect her mail, newspapers and magazines each week.  Stupidly, he had given his home telephone number for the subscriptions so when collection notices  started arriving and  I investigated, #2 was snagged.

It has now been four years since I’ve spoken to either brother; in my mother’s words….”good riddance!”

For anyone going through similar circumstances, take steps, while you can, to preserve the memories, and belongings, of your family member.  Illnesses and death can bring about the worst in relatives, even family friends.  Psyches become twisted and people have been known to conduct themselves in a reprehensible fashion as if they were somehow “entitled” to the material possessions of another person, taking whatever they can like common thieves in the night.

Hold on to your memories….


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