My Mother’s Brain: love in the times of dementia

A Latino family’s story about Alzheimer’s Dementia

Tag: reflection

Francisca Corona Terrazas, March 9, 1930 – March, 28, 2014


Our dear mother gave up her battle with Alzheimer’s Friday, March 28. She was 84 years old. She was born and grew up in Las Nieves, Durango, a small village in Mexico, but lived out most of her adulthood in El Paso, Texas.

In terms of money, she was poor. But she was a devout Catholic and believed that if you want social justice you live a life that reflects your beliefs. She lived what she preached: she had little wealth, but from what she had she gave willingly and lovingly to those who had less. After she retired from working in the public schools and before she became afflicted with dementia, she spent almost twenty years as a volunteer with Our Lady’s Youth Center, a Catholic organization that not only teaches the Catholic church’s tenets but is an advocate for social justice. For years she led a team into the outskirts of Juárez to deliver food to elderly, sick and homebound people who often lived in one-room homes with outhouses for sanitation. To do this, she had to drive a van along dirt roads that were sometimes washed out or so rutted they were nearly impassible. But not arriving was not an option; she would not let the least among us go hungry.

She never asked for anything in return for what she did. But we, her family, believe that while she was ill, her good deeds were returned to her a hundredfold. With the help of personal attendants and round-the-clock caregivers who bathed her, changed her clothes, fed her, and took her for walks, we were able to keep her in her home throughout the disease. Only in her last three weeks was she unable to walk, and only on her last day was she bed-bound. But most importantly, even those caregivers who didn’t know her until they were assigned to help her developed a deep affection for her. After she died, a caregiver who had been with her only since last August, showed up at the house in tears, asking if we needed help with anything, even if it was just doing Mom’s final load of laundry.

In her last few days those who loved her — brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews — visited to say farewell. Incredibly, despite having lost her memory to disease, she reacted to seeing those she’d not seen for a while, holding their gaze, reaching for and holding their hands. Her last hours were as peaceful as we could have hoped for. She did not struggle. She did not panic. She was surrounded by her children, two of her sisters and one of her caregivers. We thanked her for all she did for us. We told her we loved her. We sang to her. We showered her with kisses. We assured her we would be all right, and that it was okay for her to let go. And she finally did, a few minutes before 3 a.m. on Friday.

We, Angelica Terrazas, Luis Carlos Terrazas, and Beatriz Terrazas, are grateful for all the support we’ve received from friends and family over the last several years. You’ve buoyed us through a difficult and emotional journey.

If you’ve been moved by our mother’s story, we ask that in her memory, you consider doing something kind for someone in need. 




Yes, it has been months since I posted anything here. Not because I haven’t wanted to do so, but because I haven’t had the emotional energy to do so. Those of you on this journey know you hit spots where all you can do is put one foot in front of the other, move forward one step at a time, looking toward a day when you’ll awaken rested and refreshed.

This has been a trying year. My mother was hospitalized twice, albeit briefly. I wasn’t needed at her side as her illnesses were fleeting, and in fact, the second time doctors couldn’t even figure out what caused her to experience a couple of days of lethargy. Had I been there, I would have said, “Don’t you think it’s just the disease?”  But I wasn’t there, so I won’t second-guess the ones who were. I suspect that despite their expensive educations, many doctors still don’t realize the many ways Alzheimer’s affects the brains. So they have to run their tests, do their analyses, and look for a cause. I get it, I do. If I could find the switch that would turn off the dementia, I’d do it. But no matter how many MRIs doctors order, they’re not going to reveal an improvement of her brain.

My mother-in-law died at the end of March. It was as sudden as it can be for someone with dementia. One moment she was breathing, the next moment she wasn’t. And despite our awareness that she could leave us at any moment, we were still unprepared. (Is anyone ever prepared for a loved one to die?) I stood with my husband in her room, touched her arm, and in my humanness wondered, “Really? Did she have to go so quickly?”

My husband said something to me shortly after his mother’s death that has proven wise and has been a help to me. He said that as we age we just need to know that we will be getting the phone calls about our elderly parents. There will be the 180-degree pivots to make when something happens, and you can’t wring your hands or stress over the decision to be made every single time it happens. You just need to act, know that whatever decision you make is the best one you could make at that moment, and then let it go and move on. I know it’s hard to do, but it has helped me to accept, finally, that there is a new normal, that difficult times are going to happen, and that while my stomach may be tied in knots for a while, the knots will eventually loosen.

Between travel to be with my mother and helping my husband deal with his mother’s funeral, her exit from residential care, and the estate-related paperwork that has piled up in our home office, I’ve also been rather busy with work. So much so that when I received a check in the mail for a contribution to a blog I contribute to, I thought it was an accounting mistake. I’d forgotten about an essay I’d submitted. I didn’t realize it had been published more than a month ago. It was a piece about a memory of my mother when I was a child, and I’d struggled to find a home for the essay. When I submitted it I took my husband’s advice and told myself: If it’s meant to be published, it will be, and if it’s not, so be it. Then I let it go, and moved on.

I’m sharing the link to this piece because I know many of you have had a similar experience. As more and more memories slip from our loved ones’ minds, we can’t help but keep searching for that reflection of ourselves in their eyes, hearts and mind. Here then, is the link to The History in Her Skin: