Marilyn Raichle wants to change the conversation about her mother and about Alzheimer’s.
The conversations often begin with ‘she’s gone’, or ‘she’s an empty shell now’, or ‘how sad’. It is sad of course. But here’s the point Raichle is eager to make: Her mother Jean is still here.
“So many people talk about their family members with Alzheimer’s and dementia in the past tense,” says Raichle.
Through her blog, Raichle wants to remind us all to use the present tense, to embrace our parents and grandparents with dementia and Alzheimer's. She believes we can learn from them still.
At 63, Raichle is still learning from her 94-year-old mom.
“Spending time with mom, I am learning how to listen, to be patient, to relax in the pleasures of the moment and to have less fear of Alzheimer’s when my time comes," Raichle said. "Thanks to her, I am becoming a better and happier person.”
And the things you learn about your parents; Raichle learned that her mom had artistic talent two years after her Alzheimer’s diagnosis eight years ago. That’s when Jean began going to an art class every Tuesday at her assisted living home in Seattle, Horizon House. Six years of Tuesdays have produced 500 paintings.
“We never knew she had this artistic talent,” said Raichle.
So what explains it?
Raichle has one theory: “That in some people with dementia, maybe it’s new synapses being formed, something’s happening in their brain. That is causing them to have artistic creativity where none existed before."
Marilyn has made calendars out of the paintings, and still marvels at the quality of her mother’s work.
“I just look at them and go 'oh my gosh, these are really good.'”
Never mind that Jean forgets she’s painted them. And if you tell her how good they are she might respond with, “Oh, you can throw those out.”
Her daughter has kept almost every one of them.
The way Raichle sees it: “It’s a window into her mind and it’s also for me less to figure out what she’s thinking, but just taking pleasure in the fact that she is thinking.”
And teaching. Teaching her daughter still, about life, and what’s important.
“Just to be there and to enjoy it,” said Raichle. “Hold on tight.”
Because after all, those suffering from Alzheimer's are still here.