My mother died of Alzheimer's almost five years ago and tomorrow would be her 92nd birthday. Alzheimer's is a horrible disease. It's like a burglar breaking into your home, robbing you of a loved one. There's no police report to file and no hope of ever getting your possessions returned. Little by little, over seven years with Mom's battle, we watched her disappear a bit more each day.
But my purpose in writing about this today isn't to relive the pain, but some pretty special moments.
First is the importance photography played in losing Mom. Dad passed away two years later, but thanks to photographs the smiles live on. The contemporary images in this post are all thanks to Bambi Cantrell spending most of a day with my folks. It was just before the Alzheimer's truly took hold. She captured the love they had for each other, and with each photograph, I can "hear" Mom's smile.
And there's my first point this morning - NEVER compromise on the quality of an image! Being a photographer is a huge responsibility. Your clients are putting all their trust in you to capture images that are more than photographs! Even the most routine series of images, depending on the situation, can become a cornerstone of invaluable memories.
My second point is to remind you that in dealing with Alzheimer's, you're never alone. So many of you are dealing with it now or may be in the near future. There were some things that helped us through the storms a lot.
- Get yourself into a caregiver support group. Dad and I would go to the Caregiver Support Group every Thursday morning. There were 20-30 people there, all dealing with Alzheimer's affecting a family member. Dad learned it was okay to be angry and feel betrayed, and both of us learned ways to support Mom instead of arguing with the disease.
- Pick up a copy of "The 36-Hour Day." It's written like a series of case studies, and I've suggested it to everyone I've met who's dealing with anything under the dementia umbrella. It helped me understand what Mom was going through. Click on the thumbnail to the right to find it on Amazon.
- Savor the good times. Dad commented in the Thursday group one morning, "I'm going to hang on to every good moment we get and squeeze every drop of happiness out of it." It couldn't be cornier, but that's precisely what he did. Things Mom did or thought that just weren't logical but were funny became private stories he stored in his head and went back to over and again when times were tougher.
- Nothing beats "Throwback Thursday" photographs with an Alzheimer's patient. Mom loved it when we pulled out the old albums. While her memory was disappearing daily, the older the photograph, the more vivid her memories. She didn't remember eating ten minutes after lunch, but she could name all friends from college and memories from growing up. If you're dealing with Alzheimer's, pull out those old albums and "treasure chest" shoeboxes!
Wishing all of you a beautiful Sunday and a day filled with memory-making. If you're a photographer, think about the things you should do to make your skill set the very best it can be. There's no room for lack of quality in your work and mediocrity is a dirty word! Go for those eleven-second hugs and remind the people you love the most how vital they are in your life.
Happy Sunday and Happy Birthday Mom - sure do love ya!