When Someone You Love No Longer Recognizes You

05/15/2015 07:15 am ET | Updated May 15, 2016

What would you tell the world whilst you can still remember? What gifts would you give?

Most of us can't begin to imagine a time when our minds might betray us, when our thoughts may stay frozen, unable to make the journey from our brain to our tongue. Unuttered sentences. Lost syllables. The coldness of a silence that imposes itself without want nor welcome.

Being witness to the struggle that those with Alzheimer's face is a challenge. Watching their landscape change from a clear, luminous outlook to a murky, shadowy unknowing seems to be almost as harrowing as the actual decline of the sufferer. Helplessness on both sides.

There is little else as heart-wrenching as the bitter blow of no longer being recognized by those we love.

Coming face to face with a blank, vacant stare is an unwelcome reminder of how utterly we define ourselves according to our worth in the eyes of others. When we are forgotten by our loved ones, it leads us to question our own merit, our very existence. It can be uncomfortable observation at best, devastating clarity at worst.

I remember visiting my aunt in hospital when I was a child. I saw through infant eyes the way in which she could seamlessly travel from the present moment to an unknown place. She was able to journey there with ease. An instant transportation. Her expression would change from one of lucid awareness to one of remoteness and I would know that she had left again.

She could sometimes recall childhood events but she had no idea what she'd just eaten for lunch.


I'm not sure how the mind decides what pieces to hold onto and what to let slip away. I do know, however, that the memory that dementia steals serves as an unapologetic reminder that life is a series of moments, any one of which can be forgotten, almost as though they had never actually existed at all. Fragments of time fall into a space that cannot be harnessed by the mind or pinned down by the pen. They merge into the endless ether, seemingly without a trace. Yet, we are still changed because of them.

I like to think that the lost times live on in the heart, even when the minds eye becomes cloudy, that they still have an injection of life through the beat of love that another organ can provide.

A strange, sometimes welcome, side effect of this illness is that not everything is always forgotten and sometimes remnants of clarity remain. The memories the mind fought to keep. Perhaps some things are just so true that neither time nor man can erase them.

For the voyeurs, there is a wretchedness that surrounds Alzheimer's. A pendulum that swings from hope to heartbreak with a regularity that offers no comfort. Moments of relief are swiftly replaced by hours of grief. How do we possibly find a way to push through the despondency?

Perhaps we take more pleasure in cherishing the beauty of the moment, the only truth we know. Maybe we reassure ourselves that Alzheimer's is simply another state of being, not necessarily one of dark terror, but a different plane that may pose no true harm to those that fly on its wings.

Hopefully, above all else, we wrap love around those whose reality is forever removed from ours, keeping them safe as they wander where we cannot follow.

Photo credit: Konstantinos Tamvakis

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