death and memory loss

Since moving down 22 months ago, two of Mom’s friends have died ….

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Last year, my mother lost one of her best friends. It was tremendously sad for all of us, as Ginny was a wonderfully energetic woman who shuttled my mother to the doctor’s office, the grocery store, the library and anywhere else Mom needed to go. Ginny was 73 years old and, though she had been sick for a couple of months, her death was a shock. She was always busy with family, crafts, the Church, social organizations and friends, particularly my mother. She always made time for her and went out of her way to make sure Mom was safe and sound. I don’t know what we would have done without her. 

For my mother, it was devastating to hear that Ginny was gone. Even more onerous, though, was the fact that Mom’s memory loss meant that she had to experience learning about Ginny’s death multiple time. It was a horribly morbid version of Groundhog’s Day. After several rounds of tears and sorrow, she started to remember. For me, it was terribly sad that this woman who had given so much time and attention to my mother would not have more time to do the things she loved to do. I felt a bit guilty at how much we had relied on her to help Mom, particularly because her own time ended up being so limited. The saving grace is that I know she loved my mother and enjoyed their time together. It was an incredible gift.

Mixed in with the sadness was a sense of relief that Mom moved down to Baltimore when she did. Not only would her grief have been more acute had she not moved, it would have been mixed with the overwhelming fear of what would happen to her. There seems to be an oddly unique, self-centered component of “old-age” grief that manifests as fear. We all want to feel safe and surrounded by the warmth of friendship, but it seems that as one’s world shrinks the need for that safe place becomes critical and the impact of its disruption is more intense. Fortunately, once she moved down here, Mom was no longer dependent on Ginny for anything but friendship. Her grief, in that sense, was more pure since she didn’t have to worry about her own logistical needs.

The second friend to die, Bette, was not someone on whom Mom relied. Bette, who was age 77, was in many organizations with her and they were friends, but not all that close. Mom’s relationship with Bette could be a bit challenging sometimes, but she was always there to help. Had Mom needed a ride to the store or help with anything, Bette would have been there. Like Ginny, her death was a shock – very unexpected. She was a strong and active woman who was very involved in the community. Like Ginny’s death, Mom had to relive this one several times.

Mom’s challenge with this death was to accept how much she liked Bette, even as she sometimes complained about her … well … forceful personality. Mom joined groups; Bette led them. There was some chafing under that leadership. Mom worked on certain activities; Bette seemed to find a way to be involved in lots of activities and to push others to be more engaged. Both were stubborn when working on “their” tasks. Yet, Mom had to admit that the world (and certainly communities) needed people like Bette to get things done.

tree-42827_1280The deaths of these two strong women, both quite a bit younger than Mom, were hard to take. They both did so much good work in their communities and were wonderful and generous friends. My mother has indicated that she is comfortable with the concept of her death – she has often said that she has lived a good, full life. Although she didn’t say it out loud, she seemed to wonder why they died. They were so vibrant … and she is less so.

4 thoughts on “death and memory loss”

  1. I am sorry for the loss of these two women and what they meant to your family. I wonder how often that “Groundhog’s Day” moment occurs for the elderly. Not the sort where they pick up the phone to call them, then remember. More the totally forgetting and needing to be told again.

    My in-laws were married over 65 years when my father-in-law died. As i’ve mentioned in previous comments, my mother-in-law has memory issues but they are inconsistent and has had them for decades (post-aneurism). FIL died in their apartment home at the retirement complex in hospice care. MIL sat by his bedside when no one else in the family was sitting there. So, after he died, while waiting for the funeral home to transfer him, she sat there. Yet when the home came with their rolling stretcher and body bag, she turned to my husband and said, “Is he dead?” She knew it, of course, but nothing had substantially changed, so it didn’t quite make the impact. That was when she seems to have truly lost him, when my husband told her. Fortunately it only happened the one time.

    For a distant death i cannot imagine how many times you will need to repeat the exchange. How sad. And nothing i considered previously. My heart goes out to you & her.

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    1. The “forgetting” wasn’t something that I thought about before my mother’s friend died. I think it’s easier to think about forgetting the little stuff but imagine that “big news” will somehow be remembered. It is a challenge.

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    2. Susan – I had wondered if your mom knew about Betty. Susanne Blinebry, who was there w/her for a while after she broke some toes was sent to Syr. and very bad for a while – miraculously, she is home – but, will probably have some issues w/her lungs – very tragic fire. I am sorry I haven’t written yet – will be getting one out soon – not to good about it. So – glad I found this. Does your mother know that the church has been renovated and is most beautiful – perhaps someone can get some pictures to send – I don’t do that. You will have my address so you can write – I do better w/that.

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      1. Mary, thank you so much for commenting! It’s great to hear from you. The fire sounds just awful and is such a tragedy. I hope Susanne is able to recover. Mom does know about the church renovations and it would be great to see some pictures. I wonder whether there are any on the website – I’m assuming they have a website up and running. I’ll have to look around. Glad the renovations are meeting with approval.

        Mom loves to get cards and letters, but we also have to work on getting letters out! Hopefully, she will be getting something together soon. I’m glad you stopped by and if you have any ideas for posts, please let me know – I’m always on the lookout for a good topic. If you have anything you would like to post, I’d be happy to post it for you. Take care and have a great day!

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