A Study of Dementia

If my mother knew that I painted this portrait of her, she would definitely not approve…

In the years before her death in 2012, I painted several portraits of her, ranging from a happy, laughing face to the serious one called “Beloved”, where she is in the midst of a conversation with her grandchildren at a Christmas gathering.

My mother had dementia – not a word I could use openly while she was alive. She vehemently denied any such malady when it was diagnosed over 10 years previously, so we hushed up the subject and went along with keeping all things as normal as possible for her.

This particular painting was done as a form of therapy for myself, in dealing with her gradual deterioration over the years and finally her death from a heart attack at the age of 85. For reference, I used a recent candid photo of her from my stash taken at her favourite restaurant, Joey’s Only.  She loved halibut.

The painting is also a study of dementia. The particular expression on her face was a reaction after she asked me if her mother was still alive, and I told her that she wasn’t. Mom showed distress for a few moments and then went on to the next subject that came to her mind.

Mom wouldn’t have approved of my painting. She didn’t like to see detailed portraits of how old she looked – who can blame her? 😉 But I was still moved to paint it in her honour.

Dementia is not a subject that I need to be quiet about now. It happens to so many of the elderly and effects profoundly the family, friends and caregivers who look after them. Mom lived her last five years at the Concordia Place nursing facility in Winnipeg, and I am deeply grateful to the kind folks who loved and cared for her.

He blesses every love that weeps and grieves,
And makes our grief the pangs of a new birth.
The love that’s poured in silence at old graves
Renewing flowers, tending the bare earth,
Is never lost. In him all love is found
And sown with him, a seed in the rich ground.

Excerpt from Number 14 “The Stations of the Cross” by Malcolm Guite