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My Disappearing Mother

My Disappearing Mother: A Memoir of Magic and Loss in the Country of Dementia

Review By Lauren Keating


My Disappearing Mother gives a voice to the grieving by sharing the pain, diminishing the sense of hopelessness and loneliness, and removing the stigma of speaking about the specific, slow heartbreak of losing a loved one to dementia. 

 

With the disease affecting 55 million people worldwide, author Suzanne Finnamore offers coping tips and shares the importance of seeking help, whether it be grief counseling or finding someone to talk to without judgment. 

 

“You’re having anticipatory loss, which is very vague and very insidious, and it will affect you,” Finnamore said - recommending gathering a circle of loved ones for support and looking to religion or spirituality. 

 

Writing the memoir was both cathartic and challenging for the author. “I’ve always written myself out of situations or just as a way to find breath,” said Finnamore, “like a whale coming up from the depths of grieving and loss. And then you come up to the surface, and you can breathe for a while because you’re expressing it and honoring the loss; you’re honoring the grief by writing about it instead of just collapsing into a puddle.” 

 

++In her book, Finnamore shows the reader that life is delicate during this slow dance with dementia and that there is so much living to do during and after the loved one’s final bow. The author learned that even though dementia would dull her mother Bunny’s intellect, she was still her mother.

 

 “There was a sacred core to my mom that never was touched by this illness and is not touched by death. And that’s a huge lesson for me.” Despite being bedridden in the last few years of life, her mother would “come to the surface” and the two would exchange looks and love.

 

 “Dementia did not conquer her, you know. It felt like she conquered it.” Dealing with the progression of the disease is like being on a rollercoaster. People can have one really good day with their loved one, and the next, that gut-wrenching feeling that they don’t remember who they are. Then comes the anger and jealousy. 

 

“Self-pity runs in rivers through Dementia,” she said. It’s just part of the terrain then, so I was able to make that little separation again. While this place is not a vacation destination (it’s filled with lucid hallucinations and the monster of fear), Finnamore points out that there are “gifts to be had in the wilds of dementia.” 

 

“And just when you thought that things could not get any darker,” she said, “I would find some sort of an abiding lesson of goodness.” 

     Lessons like physical appearance and material things don’t matter. “Dementia can be super grim; let’s not kid ourselves. But when you leave, you feel an enhanced sense of appreciation for what you have,” she explained - also finding that she grew in compassion and respect for the elderly. 

 

“Ten or 20 years ago, I think I might have just seen them as people on their way out instead of people who know the way in,” she said. “They’re people. They may be on their way out, but they’re not diminished.” 

 

She also learned she was stronger emotionally than she once thought, and how this experience gave her perspective on mortality. “My mother taught a master class in life to me over the time of her dying. And it’s a long, slow death. But you know, there are gifts in that too,” she added. “You have time to prepare, and don’t let things go unsaid.” 

 

Finnamore put rules in dementia so that her mother went deeper and deeper. She realized her mother’s ability to recognize her would come in waves. But according to Finnamore, it’s the ego that doesn’t want to be forgotten. “You’re going to get to a place where you don’t need to be recognized, where you can just love her.”

 

In a dream on the night her mother passed, Finnamore recalls seeing her mother on a rollercoaster. She was young and healthy, her face lit with joy. “A rollercoaster wasn’t something that she would generally have messed with before. She didn’t like that; she would consider that sort of scary and unpleasant. But she was on it and just loved it so much.” As the coaster passed Finnamore, who was standing on the ground, she told her mother she was proud of her. When she woke up, her mother had passed.

 

 “My mom sent me the dream,” she declared. “It was so powerful. Because not only did she let me know that she was all right, [but also] that her ascension was an act of joy versus, ‘Oh, I’m falling into nothingness. I’m going up. It’s joyous. It’s better than you can imagine it to be.’” Finnamore said the dream should be no surprise to those who knew Bunny. “She always had a flamboyant and exciting way of living,” she said. “And so, of course, she would have a flamboyant and exciting way of dying as well, even in the midst of dementia.”

 

 

 

 

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