She was like a Christmas tree ~ tall and full and smothered from top to bottom with lights and decorations, each one a symbol of who she was. Mom the master gardener. Mom the splendid cook. Mom the mother of six. Mom who traveled from Iran through India to escape the fall of the Shah, children in tow. The seamstress. The devourer of books. The safe harbor for Vietnamese boat people. The math whiz. The artist.

Then the lights begin to go out, one by one, slowly at first, then snowballing.


We both laughed it off at first. She was still mostly illuminated back then. Still driving. Still taking tai chi, at age 90. Still learning French. Always learning French.

That was three years ago.

Now she mostly sits silent. She no longer reads or goes out. She watches TV but cannot tell you what she’s seen. The woman who has seen the four corners of the world remembers little, but she seems happy.

It’s as if all the lights on the tree have gone out save one ~ the brilliant angel at the top. From that one light I can still see the dim outline of our tree, still full, still alive, with its many decorations, the experiences of a lifetime, all still there, glowing like ghosts in the fading light.

Mom the Christmas tree.

Although I can barely see her anymore, I know she will light up again…in another time and place, more brilliantly than ever.


This essay was originally posted in Dance Past Sunset, my podcast and blog on innovative ways older adults can enjoy peak life experiences in their sunset years.

Dementia is, no doubt, a debilitating condition, and not exactly a “peak life experience,” especially for the one who has it. For the caregiver, it presents great challenges. But as with any hard thing, caring for a person with disabilities also offers great opportunities…to slow down, to empathize, to observe, to learn patience…all things I am naturally bad at, by the way!

To learn more about how to “see” (or interpret) what you experience, see the Parable of the Two Dogs.

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