The Empty Chair That Alzheimer's Left


I usually try to write something positive about my mom's journey with Alzheimer's but today I am reflecting on something that has been bothering me recently.

Like many families, we celebrate holidays and milestones achieved together. My grandmother always made a wonderful gathering for every occasion and the food was oh so good, all happy memories.

Once my grandmother passed, my mom and aunt continued these traditions. Mom was there for the holidays and cherished every milestone her children and grandchildren accomplished, from wedding plans to baby showers. She was so excited for each of us, and was there as we gave birth and when our children made their sacraments. She even celebrated minor events; little things like cheerleading awards.

No matter what the occasion, you could see the pride beaming from her eyes each and every time.

Then, Alzheimer's entered our world. Instead of memories of sharing these special times, I started to remember the lasts: the last time we celebrated mom's birthday, the last Christmas, Easter, and all occasions outside the nursing home.

We now celebrate with mom in small groups at the facility. Later, we all gather together, carrying on the traditions. But, there is always an empty chair there that mom should be sitting in.

I remember the last big milestone she was able to attend. It was her granddaughter's engagement party, four years ago. Since then, there has been another engagement, two weddings and a great-granddaughter born. At each, my sister and I were together with the family celebrating but next to us was the empty chair where mom should have been.

I could see the pain in my sister's eyes as we watched both her daughters walk down the aisle and again the empty chair was staring at us. The big day, when mom's first great-granddaughter was born, my sister held her grandchild with me by her side and again, an empty chair.

Recently, my daughter turned 21, and again we followed a family tradition of celebrating in Atlantic City together. Myself, my husband, my daughter's brother and sister and husband, my sister, brother-in-law, niece and her husband were all sitting in the casino as my daughter played her first slot machine, drink in hand. We were all laughing and reminiscing of the days that we celebrated with all the other kids. We were having such a wonderful time.

All of a sudden, my niece said "I remember this spot, this is where Nanny Jean liked to play." Again there was silence and the empty chair was there, staring at us.

All these traditions are being passed down to our children and we will continue to gather and enjoy our beautiful family, celebrating holidays and all the milestones achieved.

But Alzheimer's will always be there, reminding us with the empty chair.

Editor's note: Michele's journey as a caregiver for her mother with Alzheimer's was chronicled in "Fade to Blank: Life Inside Alzheimer's," an in-depth look at the real lives of families impacted by the Alzheimer's epidemic. Her story continues on her personal blog on

Growing up in a close family, Michele DeSocio learned about the power of love at a very young age and still maintains that she is happiest when with her loved ones. In 1999, she became caregiver to her mom Jean DelCampo. Michele found her voice as an advocate volunteering for Memory People, an online support and awareness group for dementia.

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Can SO relate to this story...... made me feel very sad and brought tears to my eyes.
We are living this experience right now. My Dad is placed and Mom is still at home, though with an early Alzheimer's diagnosis herself....and the hardest part for her is that my Dad is not there with her "sitting in his recliner". She cannot remember, or has chosen to block out, all the negatives she was dealing with when he was last at home. The last year he was there, was very hard on her with his behaviors. But, she talks about 'the empty chair' a lot...and being alone, and eating alone. I try to positively say to her that he is 92 yrs old and still alive, and relatively happy and she can go visit him, so at 88 yrs old she is not a widow as all her friends are....but it doesn't really help. Is it harder to experience the actual death of someone or the 'slow death' of this disease....where you still have the person....but not really the person, as you knew them? I change my feelings about this from day to day. It's a very hard disease to live with.
The nice thing is noting how much you all love your mom and miss her. My FIL had major dementia the last 3 years of his life, though he retained his lovely, loving personality. Just no memories or awareness of present day and recent years.