Alzheimer’s + Art

Those of you who have been reading my blog over the past few years may remember that my mom died two years ago – May 22, 2006 from Alzheimer’s. The summer before she died she spent a lot of her time outside in the garden creating little portraits of nature. She would line up seed pods, pine needles, dried-up flower heads. She would organize twigs, dirt clods, and flower petals. Very little escaped her artistic eye. Two pieces of milky white glass became juxtaposed with a wood chip; a row of tiny rocks stretched for two and a half feet in the coarse red soil. Shriveling succulent leaves were lined-up like soldiers along the edge of the walkway.

Unfortunately, Mom’s seemingly endless organizing of objects annoyed us quite a bit. She would crouch in the hot Sacramento sun, refusing to eat, drink, go to the bathroom, wear a hat or do any of the sensible things that we asked of her. She would spread out her plant fragments across tables where we needed to sit and eat and become angry with us when we swept them into a box to clean up.

Thankfully, by chance or luck, I saw something beautiful in what she was doing, and I started to photograph her little designs whenever I could. I was at her house almost every weekend that summer, and I was always excited to see what she had created while I was gone. Sometimes her artwork was easily spotted near the front door or in the middle of a lawn chair. Other times I had to go a little further into the garden – beneath the peach tree, in the wet dirt, or near a favorite plant – to find them. I tried not to let her see me taking pictures; I’d wait until she went into the house or took a nap, and then I’d run around to all the spots I’d seen and take pictures as fast as I could before she came outside again.

I felt sneaky and excited about what I was capturing, but I never felt that it would end, that she would stop making them. Of course she eventually did, and I forgot about the pictures as her condition worsened and we had to concern ourselves with doing things to keep her alive, like coaxing her to take a few sips of water or a few bites of pudding.

She would sleep in the lounge chair in the dining room, and I, exhausted but afraid to leave her alone in case she woke up and needed me, would sleep on the carpeted floor with a balled-up sweatshirt as a pillow. Sometimes I would wake up and see her awake too, and watching me. And she would smile, and I would remind her of who I was.

Last Christmas I finally took all the pictures I had taken and organized them and made a movie of them using iMovie. There were over a hundred images, so the process was a bit daunting. But going through them made me feel close to her again. I worked on fade-ins and fade-outs and scan and pan settings. This was my first time using iMovie, so I made a lot of mistakes as I worked to get things just right. I added just the right music and burned the movie on cds for my sisters, dad, and aunts. We watched it together at Christmas on my dad’s super big TV.

I don’t know what kind of reaction I expected from my dad, but I didn’t anticipate how emotional he became. I felt bad that I had brought up all these feelings again and I hugged him and apologized. But he told me that he was grateful. He had never realized that I was photographing these things and he said that he never saw them as art, the way I had. It made him sad to realize that he hadn’t appreciated what my mom was doing that summer. But how could he? He was just trying to cope with her illness and keep her healthy for as long as he could.

If you’d like to see the movie, just click on link below and it will open in a new window. The movie is just over fourteen minutes long and can take quite a while to load, so go get a cup of coffee or a glass of wine while you wait. The first time I tried to play it over the Internet I thought it wasn’t working and almost gave up. I started doing some drawing and suddenly I heard the first song start to play, and there was the movie, playing on my computer.

I hadn’t watched the film since December, and even though I watched it at least fifty times as I put it together, I still find it difficult to watch without hurting inside a little bit. Of course I still miss my mom a lot. But some days go by when I don’t, and I try not to let myself feel bad about that.

The reason why I wanted to share this movie I made with all of you is because so many of us have parents, brothers, sisters with this awful illness of Alzheimer’s. Maybe one of them is creating something beautiful and you can’t see it through your sadness and despair and the day to day struggle to survive. We get so busy taking care of this person we love who is disappearing before us, that we forget to see the little joys that might just be found in some tiny thing that person is doing and that we discount because of his or her illness.

In the little cd booklet I made to go along with this movie, I wrote: . . . Mom’s love of nature and her artistic impulses outlasted most of her other memories, even her memory of me. I believe that these portraits of small, fragile, often overlooked fragments of nature were her last great gifts to us. I want to share those gifts with whoever is willing to accept them.

Click here to see the movie.

“Dante’s Prayer” by Loreena McKennitt
“Watermark” by Enya
“Breathe Me” by Sia

108 thoughts on “Alzheimer’s + Art

  1. I don’t remember how I stumbled across your blog but I’ve been peeking in on you for a little bit now. I just wanted to stop in to say that these photographs and the movie you made of them is one of the loveliest and most inspiring things I’ve ever seen. What a beautiful tribute to your mother, and you’re right – the fact that you were able to recognize the gift of it while it was happening was such a blessing. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. I came across your blog a while ago and often pop in to read unseen. This entry though I felt i had to say – Well done. I am so glad you recognised what she was doing and took some photos. I am sure your Mum appreciates that you did. What a wonderful tribute to her.

  3. I just happened across your blog today. Wow! The artful vignettes your mom made are so beautiful. What a wonderful job on the movie, very moving, and as Clare said above, relaxing. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. Curious, did your mom have an art background?

  4. Wow, thank you so much for sharing this with the world.Thank you for seeing the beauty in a heartbreaking situation and taking note of your mothers journey. Thank you for sharing her blessings with the world.
    Thank You

  5. This was wonderful to see – it is so powerful to see how people can continue to create beauty even when they are are going through something that is devastating. You recorded something very precious. Thanks for sharing this! Kartika

  6. How wonderful that you were able to record your mother’s creativity. What a wonderful legacy to leave in this world. Thank you for being her beautiful artistic daughter who was able to capture her mother’s art and set it to music.
    Well done for honoring your mother and her life in this way.

  7. WOW. Happened to wander into your blog via a search. This is an absolutely wonderful tribute to you and your mom. I’ve forwarded it to other folks and posted in on a wiki I share with some friends. Thank you for sharing your heart. The photos are breath-taking. A walk into your mom’s creative spirit. Beautiful work.

  8. A beautiful tribute to your mum, my dad had alzeimers,
    so I know how hard it is to watch, but I work as an activity co-ordinatorwith people who have alzeimers and dementia related problems,I try to introduce art into my activities as much as I can,its a way for them to say something when they can’t tell us with speech,thank you so much for your clipart as it provides inspiration for what I do in my job

  9. The most beautiful tribute I have ever seen. My Mother has been diagnosed with alzheimers. I tape our prayers before bed and her greetings to me in the morning, and I have photographed her beautiful hands. Your Mother’s art was obviously a joy for her and now for everyone to see on the web. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing her with us.

  10. Thank you to everyone who has taken time to respond to this post. For those of you dealing with love ones who have Alzheimer’s, my heart goes out to you. I hope you remember to take care of your own health and spirit during such a challenging time.

    Over the weekend, my sister and I were talking about the last year of our mother’s life and anticipating what may be with our father who is 81. One of the things that my mom used to do that drove us crazy was sneak food to her dog under the table while we were eating. We think she did it because – a. she was madly in love with that little dog, and b. that way there was less that she had to eat herself. My dad used to get so upset about this. And now he’s started doing it! Same little dog, too! We wonder if this is a sign . . . If it is, we’ve learned a lot about patience, letting little things go, and a lot more. So if our mother’s illness can possibly have a “silver lining,” then maybe it is that when our dad needs us, we’ll be better prepared.
    Love to all of you.

  11. Karen, I was moved to tears as I watched this movie. Each little creative vignette that your mother made, was beautiful. It is obvious that she loved her time in the garden. What a wonderful way to honor her, and her memory. Have you ever thought of sharing this movie with the Alzheimer Organization in your area? No telling how many lives this could touch. Thank you for sharing this very personal tribute with us.

  12. wonderful piece. My mom had early onset alzheimers which was diagnosed when she was 59. She didn’t die until 12 years later.

    There are incredible break through moments for some alzheimer’s patients and sometimes families are fortunate to witness them. Your photographs are testament to that.

    I can remember when my mom spontaneously started speaking italian, something she never did during my life. Another time she started singing to the hospital patient next to her. I looked up the words to the song so we could sing it together.

    And yet, they are bittersweet memories…

    Please do share this with your local Alzheimer’s Association Chapter, or discuss it w/ reps at the state level. You might have real distribution options for this which might make a great fundraising tool for them…

    Best of Luck,

    West Hartford, CT

  13. Karen, this was so sweet. I just found your blog because I joined the altered book group on yahoo. I loved the piece you did for your mom a few years ago. I’m struggling with coming to terms with my moms dementia/alzheimers. I often write about it on my blog and have met a lot of people through blogging that are dealing with the same. I love the images and that you saw them as art and captured them. What a lovely remembrance for your family. I’m disappointed I could not view the movie… would not load.

  14. Karen, I found your blog while searching for something else. Your movie is a tribute to your mom and it is a gift to all of us, very beautiful and touching; it gave me insight into what I experienced with my mom. She also suffered with dememtia and I fully understand your journey. I retired early to be with mom, take care of her as best I could and while it often was difficult, I have no regrets and in fact cherish the time we had together. Thank you so much!

  15. Karen, thank you for this incredible tribute. It has touched my soul. I, too, lost my mother to Alzheimers and dementia. She was my best friend and I miss her every day. Like your mother, she loved to garden and had an artistic eye. Thank you for bringing her back to me for a few minutes today through your mother’s art. I could feel her presence all around me as I listened to the music and watched the video. Thank you, thank you!

  16. Thank you for making your webiste, I came across it by chance looking for drawings of sea shells… It has been a fountain of wealth to me.. I am a plex glass artist, using paint to reproduce stain glass but without the weight. I also sculputer with it making fish and aquatic designs. I too have a mother with Alzheimers and this tribute has made me look at her floral arrangements differently now. My mother is also legally blind with macular degeneration in both eyes.. She is a challange. Thank you for sharing your love of life.

  17. Thank you so much for sharing this personal memory with us. I am an artist, gardener and nature lover and it brought me to tears. I am going to send to my daughters because someday I may be like your mother.

    Thank you again.

  18. I just happened across your blog and your alz. art movie was wonderful. It is a great tribute to your mother. To see something beautiful at a time in your life that was so hard for you and your family is inspiring to all. Thanks for sharing it with others.

  19. How beautiful this is. Thank you for letting us all take part.
    You are sooo lucky to have been able to see what you did and have the foresight to document it.

    Your mom gave you a lasting gift…and you have passed that one to others!

    I say this with tears in my eyes having lost my mom several years ago and thinking about her now.

  20. What an inspiration you are. How wonderful your movie was- I just happened to stumble on it looking through your altered books- I started one back when my 6 year old daughter died and I just found it and all my supplies.. you have more than given me some inspiration so I appreciate it and your willingness to share all these moments, however sorrowful.. with all of us.

    Many blessings

  21. Your tribute to your mom is so beautiful. I lost my mother to cancer in 2002. I know the feeling of time slipping away. I slept by her bed side on the floor also, my sister and I huddled together. I hope your dad is in a better, happier place now. My dad still misses my mom and speaks of he every day, as we all do. Continue with your art. You are very gifted and special to share your mother’s snapshots of beauty with the world. I’m sure she is guiding you along.
    Cindy P.

  22. Karen these pictures are wonderful. It’s amazing how God can take the little things and our memories and love for our others and make something beautiful and meaningful out of it. I’m quite sure this was good thearpy for you. This is something you can and will cherish forever.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

    Debra Gilstrap

  23. Karen–thank you so much for this inspiring film. The images are so meaningful even if there was no back story. Your mother was a remarkable woman to create images like this. This is a wonderful tribute to her life. Thank you for sharing it with me. GWN

  24. Karen: I am Gary’s sister and he just sent this to me. It is the most moving inspired piece I have seen in a long time. I work in home health and hospice and wonderful souls just like your Mother are so much a part of my life. You have reminded us that there is always a God blessed spirit inside of us that continues to serve and inspire despite outward appearances. Thank you for sharing this part of your Mother’s life with all of us. God Bless…Barb

  25. Karen I crossed your site about altered booken many years ago. Today I went there to copy de url to give to someone else, and came here.
    The movie you did is just wonderful I didnt know your mother but I was also emotionel, so I can imagine your father and the rest of your family. You have had a great idea making this movie. Your mother looks so nice and sweet in the end.
    I big hug for you

  26. Karen I crossed your site about altered booken many years ago. Today I went there to copy de url to give to someone else, and came here.
    The movie you did is just wonderful I didnt know your mother but I was also emotionel, so I can imagine your father and the rest of your family. You have had a great idea making this movie. Your mother looks so nice and sweet in the end.
    A big hug for you

  27. Hi. I help take care of my mother a few nights every week. Seeing this made me cry. I think I needed to cry but didn’t realize it. I’m trying to decide whether I should leave work to spend more time with her. Either way seems scary, for different reasons. I’m afraid of the isolation if I leave work to stay with her. I’m afraid of the potential for regret if I don’t. Thanks.

  28. I am actually working on a written piece about how my father, a theater artist, made sense of his last days before his death. This is fascinating and profoundly beautiful – thank you for sharing this.

  29. Karen, This was the most beautiful post and tribute I’ve read in such a very long time. Your movie was so moving and I can see the incredible art your mom made. I lost my dad to Alzhiemer’s 8/16/2007 at the young age of 68. He’d only been diagnosed 5 years earlier. At that time, I did not pick up on the wonderful things he was trying to tell us. After seeing your movie, I look back and see a lot more. Have you considered having prints made and doing something with them to raise money and awareness for the Alzheimer’s association? That along with your story, I believe would really touch the hearts of others.

  30. Hi Karen, I have been looking at your very interesting site for the last hour now – so much creativity! I was looking for Christmas clip art for a Wassail/Christmas movie I’m putting together for a play, and especially loved your reliquerary books. Lastly I found your blog and your tribute movie to your lovely Mum – very touching, moving, delicate. Thank you so much for sharing it. All good wishes to you and your beautiful & sensitive work.
    Maria x

  31. Karen, I am an Alzheimer’s Dementia Program Director for Good Neighbor Memory Care. I was astounded to see what you did on your own for your Mom. I use art therapies most often in programming for my population. There are no unsuccessful attempts at art because the success is in the ‘doing’ of the activity. Your mom was able to self initiate her art works, many have lost the ability to get started on their own. For those who would like to give their loved one a chance to succeed, try placing items on a table for them to discover. Be mindfull of items that are too small and could be placed in the mouth. Use items that are safe for independent use. You will be amazed what gets created with a little encouragement. Remember: Art Saves Lives! Happy Holidays, Kriss Fenton.

  32. i was unable to respond to this immediately after viewing this beautiful gift you captured and shared. i had to dry my eyes first. i have worked with alzheimers exclusively for the past five years. the hardest part of my work is dealing with family members who have discarded their loved ones, believing there is nothing left in their minds. you have given the world of the ‘lost’ a voice. my heart is beating just a little faster as i ponder the beauty that graces the world because you were insiteful enough to notice a story being told through your mother’s love of nature. her beauty is captured forever. this is a work of major importance. it NEEDS to be published! thank you. i’m sorry that my words are inadequate to express what i am trying to say. thank you. i will share this with so many.

  33. Many hugs and thank-you’s to Gayle and everyone else who has shared their touching stories about lost loved ones. For those of you who work with our terminally ill friends and family members, no words can express our gratitude for the time and emotional support you give to us. My mother’s life and her art at the end were gifts to me and my family, but the thoughtful words that all of you express about what’s here, allows those gifts to keep flowing out into the world. Thank you all so much!

  34. Karen, I was so touched by your mom’s ‘presents’ to you. They really were presents and I am so glad that you captured them. My mom died 7 years ago today from Alzheimer’s, and it was today that I came across your movie by way of your altered books. I am a teacher also and decided to share your movie with a few of my junior high students. I read your blog entry about your movie, and then showed them the movie. Each had a story of someone they knew who had this horrible disease. We discussed their personal stories. What a wonderful way to open a door to such a difficult topic such as this.
    I also believe that you should publish a book of your mom’s artwork. Many people have such difficult times coping with loved ones who have this horrible disease and there is so much to learn from your mom’s art done in the midst of her disease.
    Thank you so much for sharing your ‘presents’ with the world.

  35. I stumbled across your tribute to your Mom and I was moved by her wish to leave an emphemeral trace, a kind of letter, a declension of flora, a message. I was so comforted by your wonderful movie and story; its transitory motions has shown me the meaning of compassion and of emptiness.

  36. this is such a beautiful portrait of your mom and her mind and process–such intimate stories told with seed pods and other natural materials. i really love that you shared this with us all–it is healing and full of great love and offers an extraordinary space to enter the journey your mom was on, the journey you’ve been on, to find her, celebrate her, grieve her. what a beautiful daughter–and a loving, creative eye.

    thank you.


  37. So beautiful. This moves me on so many levels and has given me much food for thought. Thank you so much. I come to your site to see what you have been doing with the happiness book – I absolutely love what you’re doing in it. Found poetry is very rewarding and engrossing, isn’t it? I also like to go through old books and cut out quirky random sentences and make poems from them. I can get lost for literally hours “mining” for fodder. I really enjoyed the film – thanks again. God bless your Mother – she made beautiful art.

  38. Dear Karen-
    This is a beautiful love story. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your mother’s amazing art. My visit to this site was random…but the memory of this site will be forever. Thank you E Hamlin

  39. Karen,
    I just happened upon your site and this incredible story touched me so much.
    I’m working on the seasonal writers’ page (called Sketch Notes) of my Website for February, dedicated to Valentine/Love, and would love to include a link to this page. If this isn’t an illustration of love, nothing is!
    Thank you so much for sharing this intimate look into your life.
    Leann Marshall

  40. Hello Karen, I have been peeking at your site for a few months on and off, and just happened to read what you said about your Mum…the Video was just so touching! very moving…..I really believe that your Mother was really happy while she was making her Art…and most of the pictures could be framed! Thank you so much for sharing it with us……Pam Killoran(Portsmouth U.K).xxx

  41. This is one of the most beautifully touching things I think I’ve ever come across. I came across it quite randomly, and even though I’m fortunate enough to still have my family in good health, it touched a very very deep nerve in me. Thank you for sharing, and god bless your mother for reminding us that even in the darkest times there’s always beauty to be found in the small moments.

  42. I got here through Stumble and I can’t hardly begin to say how much this touched me as an artist. I will take the memory of how primal art truly is with me and somehow it will touch everything I create from this moment on. Thank you and I hope you know that you help your mother to live on with this tribute.

  43. Dear Karen – thank you for sharing this gift your mother has given the world. These works are profound yet subtle much like nature herself. Life is so very very interesting isn’t it! Deb Phelps

  44. I believe God held your mother’s hand as she placed these tiny objects of His creation with exquisite love and tenderness for us to see and appreciate. Your wisdom in capturing their fragile and precious beauty is a gift to all of us as well. Thank you, Karen. My mother also created beautiful art during the “dark” years of her Alzheimer’s disease that helped me learn to see. God bless you.

  45. Hello Karen, What a wonderful tibute to and memory of your mother. I am an occupational therapist who has worked with persons with Alzheimer’s disease and believe, like you stated, that there are many joys present and we have to look for them and celebrate them. And as our loved ones lose the “normal” functions and abilities to perform and communicate we have to concentrate on and validate what is “functional” for them and engage ourselves with them at thier level. Your pictures tell me that your mother had and was using her cognitive skills in a very functional way…how wonderful! How insightful of you to recognise and record her abilities which are now special gifts for you and your family. Her method of expressing herself at that time in her life has influenced you and all who have seen this tribute that you have shared so generously. Thank you for this and for all that you share on your website. I look forward to the emails that I periodically receive from you as I joined your mailing list some time back. Rosita

  46. Soul sister who adopted you at our birth?


    My mom died of dementia — a long descent into HELL. The horror saddens my soul. I’m grateful to hear that your mom still held onto that “creative-god” part of herself.

    From reading the many comments, it sounds as though the Holy Spirit has lead many souls your way.

    Keep creating, keep sharing, keep making this world a kinder place!

    Hearts and Hugs,

    Rhonda Aldrich

  47. My mother had Alzheimer’s also. She died in 2003, she is with the Lord and I look forward to seeing her again–what a great time we will have–she and I were close. I will watch your movie when I have a bit more time. I’ve added your blog to my folder, so I will be able to find it.

  48. Karen – My eyes welled up with tears and I started weeping even before watching the video! What you wrote about below had already touched a chord in me:

    “The reason why I wanted to share… with all of you is because so many of us have parents… with this awful illness… Maybe one of them is creating something beautiful and you can’t see it through your sadness and despair and the day to day struggle to survive. We get so busy taking care of this person we love who is disappearing before us, that we forget to see the little joys that might just be found in some tiny thing that person is doing and that we discount because of his or her illness.”

    When I read these words, I felt like a mirror was being held up to my soul… reflecting back to me the truth of what I’ve been struggling to contain while trying to “hold it all together” while caring for my own mom with CAA dementia (similar to Alzheimer’s). I cried as I read your words, and felt undone, because they were expressed by someone who knew and understood the struggle that I was experiencing deep inside.

    It was good to be released to cry… and I cried even more as I watched your movie. It was like being invited and drawn into an intimate and cherished part of your mom’s own heart and mind… catching a glimpse, through her eyes, of the immense yet delicate love she had for her garden and the nature around her.

    I was moved to tears in seeing the thoughtfulness, the love and gentle care with which she collected and arranged these items from her garden… how she viewed these items as treasures and how she was able to communicate the fragile beauty and preciousness of what was capturing her own heart and mind. She knew exactly what she was doing, even tho’ it wasn’t fully understood at the time.

    Thank you so much for opening my eyes and reminding me to look for and recognize the beauty in the little things, the sometimes seemingly insignificant things, that are still present and that emerge from within my own mom from time to time. Tho’ bittersweet, it brings comfort and joy to a heart which has been quietly grieving the loss of a mother who also seems to be slowly disappearing.

    May God continue to use your art to touch and bless many others as it has for me. –Ruth

  49. Thank you Ruth for your lovely writing and for opening up and sharing with all of us. I wish you courage and patience as you go through this time with your mom. ~Karen

  50. Things happen for a reason…. finding your lovely tribute to your mother’s spirit, what a special gift for you and from you. Ruth stated so many of the thoughts and emotions created with the sharing of your mom’s artful journey – I just wanted to say my own thank you for sharing your heartwork. I had just returned from yet another dreary doctor appt. with my own mother, who has been living/disappearing with ALZ for 8 years. Your mother’s messages, and the fact that you took time to take them in, inspire me to be more attentive to the parts of Mom’s spirit that still survive in ways that I don’t see. As many have said, let this art rain its joy on others who are caught in the dark clouds of dementia. It truly brings some sunshine and light back into the day!! Thank you, Karen, for remembering the little things are really the big things. Deb

  51. What a poignant tribute to your mother. I was in awe of the beauty she found in common objects even as she found herself locked inside herself. I lve the final vugnette of the orange/yellow flowers and imagined that as vivid as they were you’re mother was even more so. Thank you for sharing.

  52. Karen, I came across your website while looking for images for my own memoirs. I shed tears of joy and shame. Joy for the memories for your beautiful tribute to your mother and shame because I didn’t fully recognize my own mother’s talents and abilities when she lived. My wife and I took care of my mother for her last 19 years and saw her go from a vibrant senior citizen to a bedridden,almost helpless octogenarian. She passed away last year and I miss her so. I have shared her collection of family photo albums and crocheted items she made for each individual family member and friends but still didn’t do enough. Thank you for sharing your movie and your mother’s art. Bless you. Dean Lough, Riverside, California

  53. Oh my, you made me cry! Your story and the movie are a beautiful and moving tribute to your mother. My dad passed away from Alzheimer’s many years ago but memories of certain incidents with him can bring me to my knees with grief. Thank you for this.

  54. Beautiful.

    It’s really wonderful that you recognize the beauty and talents in those affected by Alzheimer’s. Thank you for this, it made me think of my beautiful Grandma and her special talents.

  55. Thankyou very much for sharing your journey, I am a carer and have seen stages.

    With permission I have passed this on to a gentleman whose wife is an artist, but unfortunately walks the Alzheimer road.

    Love & Light, Mia Goldsmith

  56. Hi I stumbled here tonight. Your film is a beautiful gift to your mother and your family. Thank you for sharing this. Kia kaha, wahine toa, stand strong you woman of strength, Melva

  57. What a beautiful memory you both have created for each other and to share with all who pass by this way, you have touched deep within my heart, what a lovely tribute to your mother, thank you, Diane.

  58. My mom is in the end stages of dementia and I am seeing her disappear but I know her spirit is whole. My dad died in December 2009 from frontal lobe dementia. It has been difficult to be with my mom as her ability to communicate – even with just an expression – lessens. I have received many experiences that have enriched my life during this journey with my parents – it’s still hard – no matter how much you think you are coping. My mother was very creative and loved to putter in her garden. I know she would loved this video. I cried for her, I cried for my dad and I cried for me as I watched the beautiful gifts your mom left you. I think it is going to make my visits with my mom just a little more bearable. Thank you for sharing this awesome work of art. I’m glad you and your mom got to collaborate! 🙂

  59. Your mother’s art and your video are so achingly beautiful. My dad had a stroke 13 years ago and he is a very changed man. He is also fading as he gets older. There are so many trial and tribulations with this journey, however, I have seen so much beauty in him that I would have never seen without this experience. This is a beautiful and loving tribute of your mom. Thank you so much for sharing.

  60. I just happened to find your blog today and I just LOVE this post. I am an artist and my mom was very much an artist too. She passed away from cancer 4 years ago and I treasure all of the things I collected about her and from her. I have 2 huge scrapbooks of images, recipes, pictures, patterns, handwritten notes. I LOVE your video! Carol

  61. I went to the Alzheimer’s School of Dementia Care in 1995 and have since worked with these special people both in home care and in the medical office as a research coordinator. Though I have no family history, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia a year ago and suffer from “Fibro Fog” a classic symptom which causes memory impairment, poor concentration and focus, sometimes I feel like I have early onset. I came across this blog by accident while looking at the fairy wings and am just so touched by the love and admiration you have for your mother, it is sweet and beautiful, an inspiration for others, a coping mechanism when the demands of daily care giving and watching the one you love deteriorate make you want to just cry, you can look at the work of art and find their unique, individual creativeness that can put a smile on your face and warmth in your heart! A suggestion, contact the George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Center, School of Dementia Care in San Diego and maybe you can provide input and/or host a program, this would be a beautiful way to inspire the new students and show how special Alzheimer people are no matter the disability. Thank you for putting a smile on my face as I get ready to go see my wonderful client today, tomorrow, everyday this week!

  62. Hi Karen,

    My mother has had Alzheimer’s for the past eight years. As is the case with all who suffer from this terrible disease, I can only imagine that she is living is a world that must seem like an unexplainable blur. A way of being that must feel very insenitive, strange and inhospitable. She is sometimes very combative and although the family is very concerned and afraid for her because of this type of behavior, we still try to do all that we can to love and comfort her even though she cannot understand what is happening. I had to dry my tears before I could write this reply to you. Because even though I pray that she will somehow become better, I still know deep inside that eventually this illness will take its toll. I really can’t remember how I came across your site. However, I want you to know that what you have shared with all of us something very special. And, that as we face similar experiences in our lives with someone that we love so very much who has Alzheimer’s, we truly appreciate you having told us your mother’s story. I never met your mother but I surely know from within my heart that your mother is somewhere in heaven helping our Lord to assist people who are in need of finding some meaning and order in their lives. That might be a part of what she was trying to convey to everyone around her as she went about placing bits and pieces of nature into structured signs. That all would be well with her when she would depart from your loving care on her trip to return to the almighty, might have been what she wanted you to know. Having said this, I feel that after reading your mother’s story that I have finally found some sense of acceptance and understanding of what my mother is experiencing.

    Sincerely and God Bless.

    Hector de la Concha

  63. My father just died from advanced dementia which was hastened by a stroke 3 years ago that left him with global aphasia (he was unable to speak anything anyone could understand and could not write…after viewing this movie, it is easier to see the meaning in some of the things he did that the rest of the world would consider odd. Thank you for sharing this personal part of your life.

  64. Dear Karen,
    I discovered your site just by chance, searching public domain images for a book. The vignettes your mother made during her illness were pure art, something hard to imagine, and the way you assembled them in your movie is deeply touching – music, details, everything. My father died from Alzheimer 3 years ago, he was diagnosed only 2 years before, but I was told that the atrophy of his brain begun back before year 2000. From 2000 to 2004, he wrote a kind of journal of his garden, of the meteo conditions, little observations about articles in newspapers – one about Alzheimer! I felt such a guilt that I has not been more present in his life during these years, because he had no one to share his concerns about being ill or dying from this terrible disease. I have 2 brothers and 2 sisters and only one brother was living with my parents these last years. I suffered for the last years of major depression during and after his death. It took me years to understand that, even if I had been there, he would not have tell me about him. He was the most delicate man on the earth, a man of an unnatural modesty and kindness, and he would not want one of his children to suffer learning about his illness. So he hidden symptoms as long as he could.
    He appears in my dreams sometimes and I miss him so much. But now I am prepared to read his journal and think about his garden. Just like you did with your mother’s beautiful vignettes. These things help us to survive. I am so grateful to you because you shared this with the rest of us.

  65. Karen, At first I was going to comment on how wonderful your altered books are. I was trying to explain to a non artist and found your examples excellent. But then I saw your link to this post. I will watch your movie tomorrow since it’s way late tonight, but judging by how beautifully written your post is and how you already have me in tears, I’m pretty certain the movie will be beautiful as well. I’m sorry for the loss of your mother. I’ve lost mine as well, to cancer, but have some of the regrets that go with not understanding how little time we have left to love our loved ones. Especially in the last days when you have lied to yourself, determined to hold on for longer, longer, longer. If only I”d said… If only I’d stayed… If only I’d come earlier… Anyway, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful tribute and appreciation of one whom we’ve lost. Nor a more beautiful gift that you’re mom has given you. Thank you for sharing your life with me. I’m very touched.

  66. hello karen
    I stumbled across your website looking for stock photos and noticed the link to the movie about your mom. I watched it and thought how beautiful it was and that you had the insight to capture your mom’s creativity. I’m sure she was a sweet lady.
    My mom had passed away just this last may of alzheimer’s and it was a stuggle having to accept it and to try and understand the fact of her fading away.
    Thank you so much for sharing a chershed part of your life.

  67. Wish I could view your movie, but it says I have to purchase the full version of Nero. What a shame. But you’ve given me a great idea of what it’d have been like. My grandmother died with Alzheimers. It was devastating. She’d get so frustrated in her thinking, saying that it was like she was following a thread that just got all knotted up…

  68. PS–read that you’re a teacher, and went to see Coldplay. If so, you might like the PS 22 kids, singing La Vida Loca (I THINK that’s the one by coldplay, if not, just google P22 and coldplay and you’ll find it). Anyway, I taught for over thirty years and can related to many of your thoughts.

  69. Karen,
    This is such a touching, poignant tribute to your Mother and I am pleased I was able to see it tonight. Facebook is a means of sharing such beautiful and inspiring stories like your own, which is how I came across it.
    Thank you for sharing this with us. Enjoy the holidays and all your fond memories of the past.


  70. Oh, Karen!!! What a beautiful tribute to your mother! I am in tears and covered in goosebumps! I am overcome with the beauty of her work and with yours. I hope that I can find that kind of beauty in the stressful, tragic times in my life as well. Blessings to you!!!!

  71. Dear Karen,

    I stumbled on your site after searching for Altered Art Projects.

    Your writings about your mother and watching the movie of her ‘projects’ have had me in tears. Tears of sadness and tears of happiness at the beauty she saw.

    You have made a true tribute that should be shared with others. Thank you for sharing it with me.

  72. Dear Karen,

    I stumbled on your site after searching for Altered Art Projects.

    Your writings about your mother and watching the movie of her ‘projects’ have had me in tears. Tears of sadness and tears of happiness at the beauty she saw.

    You have made a true tribute that should be shared with others. Thank you for sharing it with me.

    Lesley UK

  73. I know that this was posted about two years ago and knowing that it is still being viewed and touching people should cement the knowledge that your mother not only touched your heart, but continues to touch the hearts of all who see this. It is bringing healing and comfort to both those with the disease and those who live or care with those with the disease. Thank you so for sharing it with the world.

  74. Karen,
    This work is a treasure and I cannot believe the gift in having found it. I am an art therapist working with elders. What your mom demonstrated in her creative expression is what I know as my personal truth, that creativity is the core of us, deeper than thought. It is our being. I would like to know if you have a DVD for sale. I offer group and individual art therapy to elders in need through a non profit, pro-bono. Your mom’s work will inspire my clients. Please email me if it is available. And thank you for sharing this piece of heaven with us.

  75. These images are absolutely beautiful. They would make a wonderful set of note cards. With the addition of a short tribute to your mom on the back, they could easily be marketed commercially or by an Alzheimer’s Association for fundraising purposes. Your ability to recognize your mother’s creativity is also amazing. Thanks for sharing them with those of us who are so in need of expanded vision.

  76. This was such a wonderful tribute to your mom, and to you and your family. God bless you that you were able to see the beauty in the middle of the chaos you were going through. My dad passed away with Alzheimer’s in 2001. I am able to relate, and also to appreciate the spiritual language your mother was using to communicate. This is a beautiful tribute and a very comforting experience for those of us who have suffered with our loved ones through this disease.

  77. Thank you, Karen…Thank you for expressing for so many of us what words cannot…Though memories may be bittersweet, thank you for eliciting the experience of spiritual joy…Thank you!

  78. Thank you for helping remember something about my mother that she may enjoy. My mother when I was little was a illustration artist. She loved to sketch and paint. I always was jealous because I did not think I had any artistic abilities. Years later I make jewelry and realize I have my artistic talent I got from her. My mother is now suffering from dementia/alzheimers and it is the hardest thing to watch her forget her life and loved ones. Through this beautiful movie I realized that maybe her helping me paint some pieces that I could turn into jewelry might be something that she may enjoy. She mainly sleeps all day I think out of boredom. Now maybe I can give a piece of herself back just for a little while. She seems so confused about her bits of memories. All I know is that she looked at me the other day and told me she was glad I was here and she needed me. I don’t know if she realizes who I am but at this point I don’t even care just the fact that she needs me and I will be here for her. Thank you again for making this beautiful movie. It was a beautiful tribute to your mother.

  79. Thank you for sharing your video. I really enjoyed it very much and it is a great memoorial for your mother.
    A freind send it to me and I am going to sent it on for others to enjoy also

  80. I am speechless – thank you for seeing the art in your mothers musings. I always wonder when people have illnesses that affect their minds, what is really going on in there – and I bet you from their point of view everything makes sense – thank u for showing me that I was maybe right

  81. Thank you so much Karen for sharing this. Strokes took much of my Grandmother away from us years before she passed away. Amazingly she had moments each night when she was as clear as decades before. The rest of the time she experienced confusion, agitation, hallucinations, and even terror. In the midst of it all she had her own ways of trying to cling to reality.

  82. Thankyou Karen for sharing your mum with us. And like so many others have said already – what a blessing that you could see the purpose in your mothers creations…and immortalised them for all time. I was so moved by your father’s reaction and conversation with you about the movie…isn’t it amazing how every little thing in life makes a difference? I wonder if his strongest memory of her last year/months/weeks/days had been less than positive, and by creating the movie, you gave him another response to feel when he thinks back – something positive and beautiful. That is a gift indeed…blessu.

  83. Karen,
    What a beautiful site and tribute to your Mother. It was quite a task putting that together, but somehow the love you have for her made it all a joy, I know. My mother passed with Alzheimer’s in 1998. A few years later, my dad passed. I also made a tribute for each of them, but not as long as yours. I was making these “movie cards” covering subjects and ideas I wanted to share with others, so it was very heartfelt that I completed the ones for both of them. My website is above and you will find several movie cards. The one for my mother is titled: A Mother’s Love, and Dads, “All Too Soon” if you care to see them. I make all of these short so I can send them via email to friends.
    My heart goes out to you as you cherish all your mother imparted to you. One day we will be re-united with them and what a glorious day that will be!

    Blessings to you and yours…

  84. Karen,

    What a beautiful tribute to your mother. My mother has been gone for two years and I miss her very much. It is great that you have your mother’s art in this movie, her art is now making an impression on other’s lives. Thank you for sharing this.

  85. I too have lost to Alzheimer’s disease. Both my parents died from it. Daddy died a year ago this week and Mom died in 2004.

    Before Mom died, she too began to do art. I did not realize how much she did until after she died. I scooped up everything she had done while we cleared out her room. I later added the pictures she had painted to her life book. Before Alzheimer’s she would not paint, she was too self critical. Her paintings were beautiful! It hurt so much that she had not shared this with me and I with her.

  86. your simply a work of art…at its finest. Your love is the greatest expression of your work and you feel its true pulse through its color and form…

    god bless you and your family


  87. Hi I just came across your site. Remarkable, moving, compelling. Order in what must have seemed like chaos.

    Thanks for your efforts and love.


  88. I found you through your public domain images but love your blog! My mother also had Alzheimer’s and your video of your Mom’s artistic creations touched me so much. Thank you for photographing what she did, and making such a beautiful tribute with it.

  89. What an utterly beautiful and touching movie! My mother died of cancer 25 years ago and my closest cousin of Alzheimer’s more recently, and the only tributes to them are those preserved in my heart. It is wonderful that you were able to capture your mother’s art like this. The rhythm and balance in some of the pieces struck me the same way as some polymer clay creations by my favorite artists do. The music is perfect, too. Thank you so much for sharing. It made me cry.

  90. My mum died after suffering from a rare form of dementia which completely altered her personality. She became aggressive and delusional and seeing her change was the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with in my life. I just wish she had been able to find some peace in art or some sort of creativity. The nursing home she was in tried to teach her to knit again, a frustrating experience for all concerned. Your video has shown me what can be done to help people in a similar situation to my mum’s and perhaps if I have to deal with this problem again I will have more insight into how I can help. Many, many thanks to you.

  91. I just came across your blog and the movie of your mother’s art. It is beautiful. I am starting art classes (experiences) for people in early stages of Alzheimer’s and you have given me a wonderful idea, to use nature to make an artistic creation. Then I will take a picture of it and bring it back to them the next time I come. Thank you and I will continue to follow your blog.

  92. Karen,
    What a beautiful site and tribute to your Mother. It was quite a task putting that together, but somehow the love you have for her made it all a joy, I know. My mother passed with Alzheimer’s in 1998. A few years later, my dad passed. I also made a tribute for each of them, but not as long as yours. I was making these “movie cards” covering subjects and ideas I wanted to share with others, so it was very heartfelt that I completed the ones for both of them. My website is above and you will find several movie cards. The one for my mother is titled: A Mother’s Love, and Dads, “All Too Soon” if you care to see them. I make all of these short so I can send them via email to friends.
    My heart goes out to you as you cherish all your mother imparted to you. One day we will be re-united with them and what a glorious day that will be!

    Blessings to you and yours…

  93. Thank you, came upon the story and movie while researching the topic for trainng for Police Officers. The story id amazing in the least.
    Currently dealing with a parent with dementia.
    The Art is amazing….what a legacy for bnoth u and mom. Thank you again….

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