A duffle bag is partially unzipped, revealing the contents within. Most prominent among them is a black and white frame photo of two young people smiling and embracing.

The Comfort of Photos: Sharing Memories With a Loved One

Only now, years later, do I allow myself to address the emptiness my mom must have experienced as we were preparing to leave her home in Virginia. I was bringing her to stay with my husband and me in our small suburban home in Columbus, Ohio.

Moving mom out of her home

That morning my mother could not seem to get moving. I believe she knew she might never be able to set foot in her home again. After all, she had been experiencing little problems for quite some time, living alone - - the skillet fire that blackened the side of the cabinet beside her stove, being no longer able to wash her own clothes anymore with the washer in the basement, confusion about her meds, and no longer being able to drive her own car.

In her home she knew every nook and cranny. She could sit for hours in her special chair in the sunroom, enjoying the view of the mountain where she was born. This was HOME. She and her younger sister would talk every evening, recalling the events of their day, and appreciating the closeness they had, especially at this stage of their lives.

But today things were about to change. Eventually the car did get packed and we headed northwest over the West Virginia mountains to Ohio, a drive that took most of the day. Pulling into our driveway that evening, we met my husband who came out to hug Grandma and bring in her things. I cannot remember the particulars of what we ate that evening. I can guess it might have been something like tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Settling into our home

Things were about to change for my husband and me too. Mealtimes were more regular with a twist. My mom was present in the kitchen!

I was still working as a court reporter. On days of an assignment sometimes I would walk in the door to find the table set and a delectable dish like freshly made potato salad waiting to be enjoyed! Having been a homemaker with a love for cooking all her life, my mother could produce a yummy dish literally by reflex, such as pan gravy, baked apples, banana bread, pancakes, etc.

One day I needed to replace a button on my husband's shirt. To my amazement I discovered my sewing basket transformed from chaos to every spool of thread neatly wound and needles easily accessible. I have tried in subsequent years to maintain that sewing basket as she had it.

For sure my mom was finding ways to fill her time, but she had a deeper need that I was soon to discover. She dearly missed her sister, her niece, and her long-time family friends from Virginia.

Looking through old photos

I had brought to Ohio a few books of photos. On occasion I would pull one out for us to thumb through. How my mom enjoyed those times. She had been known as the keeper of family lore over the years. Gazing at those photos would often prompt a story of a special event from a different day and time.

There might be a photo from her courtship with my dad, the time they took a day trip up to Mountain Lake Lodge in Southwest Virginia. She would tell me about the two-seated coupe my dad had borrowed from his brother for the climb up the mountain, having to stop halfway up to let the engine cool. I too loved gazing at that photo of my dad and mother, so young and happy, embraced at the entrance to the lodge. (One summer after her passing, I decided to find that lodge myself. I too held my breath that my old Lincoln could negotiate the steep climb.)

My brother and I shared caregiving of our mom. Every four or five weeks he would drive from his home in South Central Virginia halfway to Ohio where we would exchange our mom. She would transfer to his car for the remaining five-hour drive to Virginia.

Upon my return from one of those trips I discovered a number of framed pictures missing from our living room. Turns out a few photos had quietly made their way into my mom's suitcase. And then it came to me - - those family pictures were helping our mother hold on to her past!

Have photos helped your loved one with Alzheimer's hold onto memories? Do they enjoy looking through old photos? Share your story with us.

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