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 would ordinarily jog a person’s memory, present an insurmountable obstacle to an Alzheimer’s sufferer and their loved ones. I pulled up the photo in this post and remembered, feeling blessed that I was able to do so, silently praying that I always will. Still, I was sad that the person holding me those many years ago recognized herself but had absolutely no idea who was in her arms when she looked at the photograph.

As she progressed through Alzheimer’s stages, the basic daily repertoire with my late mother always involved the same questions, asking her if she knew the various faces from family photo albums, mainly mine. The answers varied but never reflected anyone in her present life, only people from 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.

Reality set in quite abruptly for me after my mother was found wandering in the middle of a cold winter’s night and I promptly moved her from her apartment to my home. The process of emptying her home then began and I noted that none of the disorder which surrounds many dementia patients was evident or had been. As it always was, her apartment was neat and clean, everything in its place. Everything, that is, except photographs.

That first day, as I sat in on the floor of her bedroom, in the middle of a pile of her fading memories, I realized that I had never really taken notice that the collection of framed pictures which had been sitting on her shelves, tables and in her bedroom were all gone. Just when they all disappeared escaped me, but it was not unusual for her to periodically move things around when she cleaned. I immediately started going through closets and drawers, moving years of accumulation and suddenly came across shopping bags, stuffed into a corner with frames sticking out. There were the photographs of her family; her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all put away because she simply did not know who any of these people were anymore; I was at least thankful that she did not throw them all into the trash.

In the piles of forgotten faces, I was amazed that old photos of my parents taken years before their bitter divorce were saved. Pictures I had seen countless times before now were minus my father as my mother had systematically cut him out of most of them. Of course, I later questioned her on this and asked her what happened to my father. Her response? Oh, he was killed in the war. Good riddance! My father, in fact, had died in 1992 from complications of Scleroderma.

Photographs may well indeed be our memory holders and each picture can be the key to unlocking those memories. Sometimes, that is. Where someone with memory loss is concerned, photos do not always help to keep the afflicted person anchored in the moment and stop memories from running away. It’s definitely a wonderful thing if you can travel back consistently through someone’s life story but Alzheimer’s is so cruelly subjective in how those suffering with the disease react to its rampage with waves of fleeting memories which suddenly surface then quickly disappear.

Aside from some of the more promising data involving Alzheimer’s/Dementia, certain things might cause a memory spark but, more often, trigger a negative and very combative response. Of that, I can speak with great authority as the mystery baby being held in this photo; the memories live on still, eighteen years after my mother’s passing.

From the Writer’s Workshop…Share an old photo and let it inspire a blog post.

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And so it goes, maybe…

A great deal of my inspiration filters down from a writing group I belong to, a mixture of everyday bloggers and others focused more on political, religious and personal issues. All in all, it’s a pleasant mixture of personalities and shared stories, especially with a few long-distance acquaintances made along the way.

Each week there are prompts posted, some are more like challenges but, then again, isn’t writing a challenge in itself? Certain things will incite me to hit the ground running, others, well they leave me staring at a blank screen in my home office.

I went over some recent prompts, long after I’d responded with two which I combined in one post. For the past few days, one keeps jumping out at me, beckoning me to write something, anything. The prompt? If you could trade lives with any person (living or deceased, real or fictional), who would it be, and why?

My response? Put me in Linda Ellerbee’s shoes without hesitation! A longtime Washington correspondent for NBC News, host of NBC News Overnight, Ellerbee was an American journalist, anchor, producer, author, reporter, speaker and commentator. She is widely known as the twenty-five year host of Nick News, Nickelodeon’s highly rated and recognized news program for older school-aged children and teens that addressed substantive issues, including wars, disease and disasters, without condescension. Her work on NBC News Overnight was recognized as possibly the best written and most intelligent news program ever by the jurors of the duPont Columbia Awards.

After 43 years in journalism, Ellerbee retired in 2015 and, from where I’m sitting, that was a tremendous loss to the world of mainstream media. Her style was unapologetic, quite literate, very smart, assertive, funny, keenly observant and irreverent. Would I trade lives with her? Does a bear poop in the woods? Without hesitation, absofackinglutely!

“I never had any desire to be an anchor, because of the air-head image for women,” she says in her smoky Texas lilt. “You’ll see a lot of people on air who look like they blow-dry their teeth. I’d prefer being behind the camera just writing, if it paid as well.”

“I can hold my head up, look in the mirror and I didn’t have to be ashamed of anything I ever did or wrote,” she said. “I fought some battles and I won some and lost some. But I get to walk out the door and look back feeling good about it.”

These are two of my favorite statements from Linda Ellerbee which came at the time of her retirement, during one of many interviews. Her sarcasm was unparalleled, something I can so identify with, along with her ability to override challenges that came her way. Had I made different choices, education-wise, I might have walked a similar path as she did, possibly with a fair amount of success. Maybe.

And so it goes.

From the Writer’s Workshop… If you could trade lives with any person (living or deceased, real or fictional), who would it be, and why?

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Blissful ignorance…

Selectively ignoring a situation, or someone, is an art. Simply stated, we certainly should not neglect our responsibilities and ignore the world around us but instead choose to develop the ability to differentiate between what is deserving of our attention and what is not. It’s definitely all about how we maintain our focus with an almost blissful ignorance and override things which are irrelevant or wrapped in negativity.

Once mastered, the ability to ignore definitely helps our mental state as it reduces one hell of a lot of stress by losing the burden of information overload, especially in the form of messages or news alerts. In short, it helps regain an element of control, a daunting task at times. Amazingly, pushing an”ignore” button opens space for new ideas to grow, helps our concentration and nurtures creativity.

By ignoring, we set boundaries and live more in the moment, learning to say “no” by recognizing that our time and attention are valuable resources. We can show genuine interest in others by being an active listener while never missing an opportunity to grasp every moment of silence, of solitude, and recharge for ourselves, remembering to keep one finger on that “ignore” button.

From the Writer’s Workshop…Write a post based on the word: ignore; Write a post in exactly 8 sentences. I chose to combine both.

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