Memory Making: Combating the Sorrow of Alzheimer's with Notes and Labels

A few of Mom's labels

My mom has Alzheimer's disease and we're losing her too quickly.  What began as basic forgetfulness has changed too quickly over the years since her diagnosis. We enjoy moments of clarity with Mom, but other times she doesn't know our names or our faces. She can no longer hold a pencil, cook a meal or read a book. We know that time will soon gobble up what is left of her memories. It is a heartbreaking thing to experience, as many of you know.

But long before Mom began to lose her memory, she started labeling things in her house. She wrote dates on the back of photos, saved letters and drawings from her kids and grandkids with Post-It notes on the back: "love this!" or "Drew, age 3." She kept report cards and concert programs, circling our names, commenting on what we sang or what our teachers said about us. She kept a Thanksgiving journal: how big the turkey was and how much she paid for it, what the weather was like, which recipes she served, which dishes she used and who came to dine with us. Mom put earrings and bracelets in Ziplock bags with labels: "for Christy," "for Michelle," or "for Jennifer." Similar notes are taped to the bottom of furniture, knickknacks, books and picture frames.

What a gift to have all these notes now! I suppose if my sisters and I were at odds, it would at least save us the drama of arguing over Mom's stuff. But even as it is (my sisters and I are very close and seldom argue about anything) it is the value of her love that we enjoy most. What a gift to see her handwriting! To see her expressions of joy and love for each member of her family is priceless. It offers us something to hold and see and remember long after her memories have faded.

My sister's Facebook post
This brief blog post is inspired by my sister, who shared a similar post on Facebook after a recent visit to Mom's house. Every time we are there, we find something new -- some little treasure that holds no real value, but is priceless to us all the same.

I encourage you to journal your life in some way. Leave notes for your kids and grandkids. Write on calendars, create a Facebook or Instagram account full of family memories. Blog, journal, jot notes -- whatever works for you.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Write letters to your kids on big days in their lives. Weddings, graduations, birthdays. Send them or save them.
  • Write out your recipes by hand, or write notes in the margins of your cookbooks. What you liked, which recipes were disasters, who you dined with.
  • Write notes in your Bible.
  • Only save photos on your computer? Add names, or put them in folders by date and occasion. Use online storage sites and create albums with notes. Save them on flash drives and label them!
  • Keep a journal. It doesn't have to be full of feelings, if that's not your thing:
    • Keep track of your favorite sports teams and how well they do each year, which games you attended, or how you felt when they won or lost. 
    • Gardening
    • Sewing or quilting
    • Canning
    • Reading
    • Fishing or hunting
    • Concerts, music festivals, album reviews
    • Movies and films you loved and hated
    • Video games
    • Bible studies
    • Exercise programs and dietary plans
    • Poetry
    • Collectibles 
    • Travel
    • Bird watching
    • Camping spots
My mom would tell you she never did anything interesting in her life. She lived a middle-class life, raised her three daughters and held a series of modest jobs. She never won any awards or medals, yet her little notes about her simple life are more precious to me than if she had been an Olympic champion. Don't let your "boring life" dissuade you. Start making notes for your kids today. Someday, they will be so blessed that you did. <3

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