Terrible Grace

I feel as if I’ve swallowed a pail of glass shards looking between these photos, trying desperately in my mind to piece back together the last 7 years. Alzheimer’s disease bestowed a terrible grace upon my family. As it ravaged my mother’s mind and body to death, it stole my father’s capacity to comprehend this brutality. Even the moments when he did comprehend – the mornings she sat slumped and drooling over her cereal bowl, the days she fell into inconsolable hysterics, the nights she kicked and clawed and shouted from the bed – even these moments faded quickly from his memory. He didn’t have to bear the heaviness. Every day it was, “Do you want to go for a walk Mom?” Even when she could no longer walk. “Are you hungry Mom? Would you like a snack?” Even when she could no longer eat. But now it’s as if she has faded altogether. She has been gone for 7 months. He hasn’t asked for her in weeks.  And this, to me, is the most terrible grace. Because: he is free and she is gone. Because: he is happy and she is ash. Because: he forgets… and she is forgotten.


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  • Reply Gretchen Staebler September 21, 2017 at 10:03 pm

    Beautiful post, Elizabeth. Life when death would be better is not fair. Forgetting is easier than remembering, I’m sure, for the forgetter. And so hard on those of us who remember, who have to bear witness to the forgetting.

    • Reply elizabethgracewolf September 22, 2017 at 11:20 am

      Thank you for being here Gretchen. Thank you for listening. Thank you for understanding.

  • Reply D.H. September 21, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    You have a wonderful way with words in describing this horrible disease. My Mom passed away from it in 2008 and now my Dad has just passed away on September 1,2017 from it as well. The pain I feel over his passing away is unbearable for me. He was my one and only true friend.

    • Reply elizabethgracewolf September 22, 2017 at 11:22 am

      I understand the unbearable. I often feel a madness of despair. I am so so sorry for the pain you are going through. Thank you for being here with me.

      • Reply D.H. September 22, 2017 at 2:53 pm

        Thank you for your kind words Elizabeth

  • Reply Alison Norberg September 21, 2017 at 11:19 pm

    Gretchen says so well what I would want to say in response to your beautiful, heart wrenching description of this juncture in yours and your Dad’s life together, without Mom. I wonder how to keep remembering my mom, just over a year after her death, Alzheimer’s too. At the moment, things she treasured, such “objects are repositories of memory” (phrase J heard recently from Dutch ceramic artist Anton Reijnders.) are my focus, preparing to sell her house. It was, and is, and will be yet, so tucking hard to make sense of this non/sense.

    • Reply elizabethgracewolf September 22, 2017 at 11:36 am

      I love this idea Alison. I often wear my mother’s ring which had been her mother’s ring, and I do treasure it as a “repository of memory” imagining all the things their lovely hands touched while wearing it. I love feeling them close to me in this way. I will be thinking about you making your way through your mother’s treasures, and I would love to hear any sense you make from all this.

      • Reply Alison Norberg September 22, 2017 at 8:32 pm

        I’m so glad you have that ring, and all the connection it holds across generations. The keepsakes I have include some things of my grandmother’s that Mom chose for keeping. The objects all remind me of what shaped their lives – colour, books, simple handmade and hand painted items for everyday beauty, memories of the farm. Like the curtain hold backs Mom over painted with little flowers, picking up the floral curtains she made when she redecorated her bedroom. I guess they are sources of comfort and refuge, with all these layers of meaning, filling in the gaping holes left by the dementia, the gaping hole in my life now that she’s gone. (p.s. feel free to correct the typos I now see clearly today.)

  • Reply brian willinsky September 22, 2017 at 9:28 am

    following you story and my thoughts and prayers are with you. there is no way to make sense of any of this. it is going to be a part of you forever too. it changes you. my mother’s similar struggle (with cancer that took ALL Of her capabilities including her mind) before it took her – slowly. you will never be the same. your mom (and mine) are at peace with no more struggle for them. That is what keeps me positive. I will think of you and your family – and your dad. I wish him peace too !

    • Reply elizabethgracewolf September 22, 2017 at 11:44 am

      I vacillate between remembering the past (and nearly breaking with despair when I do) and feeling her at peace, feeling her alive in an absolutely free way. Thank you for always being here to share your understanding and wisdom and love. It means so much Brian.

  • Reply Alzwife September 22, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    Thank you for your gut-wrenching post. I cannot imagine having to cope with two parents with Alzheimer’s. And of course your mother is not forgotten. You remember for all three of you.

  • Reply tim jones September 4, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    i really just stumbled upon this post while searching for the idea of “terrible grace” in the stories of flannery o’connor. but i must say… you knocked me down with this. my father had alzheimers (as did all his siblings), but this post goes far beyond just alzheimers and right to the very questions of life and death, being and not. thank you for sharing, and i have to say, i hope you are using your gift with words to somehow make the world ever so slightly better. with this post, you certainly seem to be.

    God Bless.

    • Reply elizabethgracewolf October 13, 2019 at 12:04 pm

      Wow, thank you so much Tim for sticking around to read this post and for taking time to write to me. I am not very aware of O’Connor’s work, but I will seek it out.

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