Why I Place a Christmas Wreath on My Parents’ Grave Every Year


Since 2007, I’ve been placing a Christmas wreath on my parents’ grave. It doesn’t get any easier. As I secure the wreath to the grave, a swell of nostalgia encompasses me. I close my eyes and take in the familiar aroma of pine and memories of childhood come flooding back.


Mom and Dad always made sure Christmas was a special family time. Preparations began two weeks before. Tradition was important. I was raised in Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan with my brother, Bill, and my sister, Jane. Each December, in the center of our neighborhood, a set of beautifully decorated trees were set up. This is where we went to see Santa Claus.

My parents took great care to decorate our windows. One year, Dad used glass wax and cotton balls to simulate a snow scene on the glass. But the tree was the highlight. Dad would walk the streets looking for the perfect one. He’d carry it home, set it in its stand and let it fall into place. He’d decorate it with blue lights and old-fashioned balls. Each one was strategically placed. The biggest deal was the tinsel. No one could do it but Dad. He hung one piece at a time, and if you tried to help, it would be taken back down and rehung.

It was inevitable that I would grow up to cherish Christmas the way I do. My parents didn’t have much, but they made sure we celebrated the holiday in a big way. To this day, my husband, Jim, and I do the same for our children and grandson. In later years, I took over hosting. Mom and Dad came to all the Christmas pageants my children were in and visited for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.


After a series of strokes and a dementia diagnosis, Mom had to go into a nursing home. My father later joined her after breaking his hip. That year, I purchased a small Christmas tree; they kept it in their room until Dad passed away. He was told it was against the rules to leave the tree lit, so he’d wait until the head nurse went off duty to put the lights on, and set his alarm for the morning so he could turn it off before she returned. That explained why he was so tired during the Christmas season.

It’s funny how the familiar scent of a pine wreath could bring back so many years of fond memories. When I leave their grave, I turn around and look at the wreath and thank God I had Mom and Dad to create the traditions I continue today. I miss them terribly. But I know they’re together and happy that the legacy they began continues on.

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My husband, son, two daughters, son-in-law, and grandson with Santa.

For all of December, The Mighty is celebrating the moments we gave or received a gift that touched our lives in a special way. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post describing this moment for you. Include a photo and 1-2 sentence bio to [email protected]. Hint! Some gifts don’t come in packages.

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When My Pop Pop Taught Me How to Face Alzheimer's Disease


194513_10150158545580540_4259971_o (1) I’m 5 years old, sitting cross-legged on the carpet, and beneath an uneven flop of bangs, my forehead scrunches in frustration.

I cannot for the life of me remember where Piglet is hiding.

In front of me lay playing cards, all facedown, concealing two of every “Winnie the Pooh” character. The goal is simple. Find the pairs. Flip two cards over and remember their location so later you can match two Tiggers or two Poohs or two Roos. Whoever finds the most pairs, wins.

My Pop Pop sits across from me. His green sweater vest matches his eyes, and his tan corduroy pants match the sunspots on his head from summers at the Jersey Shore and winters in Florida. He has less hair than most people but more sweetness. Still, he’s not going to let me win.

I’m taking a long time because a mismatch and subsequent loss would put a dent in my 5-year-old ego. Before my forehead permanently wrinkles and a tantrum erupts, my Pop Pop says this:

“It’s OK if you can’t remember.”

Seven years later, I’m sitting in the living room in our home in Hillsborough, New Jersey, when I overhear my mom on the phone.

“Mom, that’s Dad,” she says. “He’s not a stranger. He’s your husband.”

I’m 12, and dementia doesn’t mean anything to me. (Diseases, I’ve found, don’t mean anything to you until suddenly they mean everything to you.)

“Mom, that’s Bill. You’re married to him.”

The first time you see your parent cry is weird and confusing and devastating — just like Alzheimer’s disease.

A few weeks go by, and my brother and I get home from school and we’re told that 1) Nana and Pop Pop are visiting; 2) Nana may not recognize us; and 3) we’re supposed to go along with this if it happens.

Preteen me is outraged. We can make her remember, I think.

My Nana looks through me when I talk to her and doesn’t hug me back. Everyone pretends as if none of this is happening.

Weird. Confusing. Devastating.

Two years later, I’m sitting on a metal chair in a hallway in Mary Manning Walsh Home, the nursing home in Manhattan where my Nana now resides. My Pop Pop takes the bus uptown every day to visit her. He hates when the nurses dress her before he gets there. He’s labeled her clothing and handles her laundry at home. He tells her stories. He feeds her. He “borrows” extra ice cream cups from other people’s trays because sometimes it’s all she’ll eat.

She can’t talk to him anymore. A series of strokes has reduced her to syllables. She says things like, “La luh, ba da, fa fuh, ka ka,” and he replies with things like, “I love you, Eleanor,” and “You look beautiful today, Eleanor,” and “Yes, I’ll turn ‘The Price Is Right’ on, Eleanor.”


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We’re just visiting for the day, but I’m not in their room because the weirdness and confusion and devastation is frankly too much for me to handle, and I’d prefer to sit among oxygen tanks and wheelchairs and unidentifiable smells.

At one point, my mom and dad go to talk with someone down the hall, and my grandparents are left alone. From my spot, I spy. My Pop Pop holds his wife’s hands, and she riddles off syllables. The cable news plays in the background.

I’m on the verge of tears, but for some reason that early memory of him winning our “Winnie the Pooh” card game finds me, and I regain my composure. I can’t hear what he’s saying to her. I don’t know if her brain knows what she’s trying to say when the syllables come out instead. I don’t know if she even recognizes him.

But I suddenly realize it’s his being there that matters. It’s his long bus rides uptown that matter. It’s his patience and understanding that matter. It’s his chattering and hand-holding and clothing-labeling and ice cream thievery that matter.

I abandon my hiding spot and join them, and I lean into my Pop Pop, and I hold my Nana’s hand, too, and I think, for the first time, It’s OK if you can’t remember, Nana. 

Because we do.

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Photographer Captures Brutally Honest Reality of Her Aunt's Alzheimer's Disease


Susan Falzone already knew what Alzheimer’s disease entailed when her Aunt Grace was diagnosed. She understood the devastation and frustration in watching a loved one’s mind deteriorate. Just years before, she’d witnessed the illness slowly take away the grandmother who raised her. She died in 2009.

After her own diagnosis, Aunt Grace summed up the disease best when, in the middle of a conversation she was having trouble getting through, she cut herself off and said this:

“Without my memories, I am nobody.”

Falzone, a photographer from Easton, Connecticut, wanted to use her work to help. While attending the International Center of Photography in New York City, she decided to focus her long-term project on documenting her aunt’s day-to-day life. With the ongoing series, “Grace,” she hopes to drive a conversation and raise awareness to a disease that affects about 5.1 million in the U.S., according to the National Institute on Aging. More than that, she wants to show those people and their loved ones that they’re a part of a community.

“You’re not alone; we’re going through this together,” Falzone, 35, told The Mighty in an email. “There are millions of families feeling the same heartache, the same frustrations and fears throughout the world. Sharing our stories makes us feel a little less alone.”

Susan's photograph of her aunt walking outside

Susan's photograph of her aunt on the telephone

Susan's photograph of her aunt buying a bouquet of flowers at a register

Susan's photograph of her aunt sitting in a dark room with light shining on her face

Susan's photograph of her aunt

Susan's photograph of her aunt reaching for something on the kitchen table

Six years later, Aunt Grace is 86 and in good health besides her mental state, according to Falzone. She can feed herself and go to the bathroom alone. She refers to her brother (Falzone’s father), who cares for her fulltime, as “Papa,” and speaks mainly in Italian, so Falzone now communicates with gestures.

“Aunt Grace still has quality of life, which my family and I are so grateful for,” Falzone told The Mighty. “[She is]just like you and me; she is representative of your mother, father, grandparents, your son or daughter.”

You can view more from “Grace” below and visit Falzone’s website for the full series.

Susan's photograph of her aunt walking outside at night

Susan's photograph of her aunt in a waiting room

Susan's photograph of her aunt sleeping in bed

Susan's photograph of her aunt's current house with photo of house from the past

h/t Feature Shoot

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Teen's Awesome Invention Could Help Keep His Grandpa With Alzheimer's Safe


This story is filled with love… and genius.

Inspired by his desire to keep his grandfather safe, a 15-year-old from California invented a device that could help millions of Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Kenneth Shinozuk’s grandpa lives with Alzheimer’s and often wanders off in the night, according to the teen’s project page on the Davidson Institute for Talent Development website. His aunt, the primary caregiver, was losing sleep trying to keep this from happening. After failing to find a device to prevent this, Kenneth realized he would have to create his own.

The teen invented a slim sensor that sends an alert to a smartphone whenever pressure is applied to it, according to Scientific American. When attached to a sock, it lets caregivers know when a patient is out of bed at night.

Every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. For the more than five million Americans living with the disease, Kenneth’s wearable sensor could mean a reduction in accidents and injuries that often occur at night.

I’d like to solve some of the mysteries of the brain,” Kenneth told NBC. “And invent tools to ultimately, I think, cure Alzheimer’s and other mental conditions that our aging population suffers from.”

The “Safe Wander,” as it’s called, is currently a participant in the Google Science Fair 2014.

Check it out:

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Daughter Tapes the Wonderful Moment Her Mother With Alzheimer's Disease Remembers Her


Some videos make you stop in your tracks. This is one of those videos.

On Friday, Aug. 29, Kelly Gunderson posted a clip (below) of a conversation with her 87-year-old mom, who has Alzheimer’s disease.

[My mother] knew who I was, even if just for a moment,” Gunderson wrote on YouTube.

At the :32 mark, you hear Gunderson say, “I love you, Mama.”

“And I love you,” she replies.

“Do you know who I am, though?” Gunderson asks. Then, some wonderfulness happens.

Take a look:

h/t Viral Viral Videos

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Donating Old iPods Can Help People With Alzheimer's Remember Their Past


We’ve heard of the healing power of music, but rarely do we get to see it in action.

In 2006, Dan Cohen, a social worker in New York, came up with the idea to use old iPods to create customized playlists for senior citizens living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Cohen believed that hearing music from their past would allow these people to tap into older memories that might otherwise be lost to them. According to The Alzheimer’s Association of America, research suggests that music can tap deep into the brain’s stored memories as a person’s ability to engage with music remains intact even in the later stages of the disease. This allows even some of America’s 5 million Alzheimer’s patients to feel and act like themselves again for a short amount of time.

In 2010, Cohen created “Music & Memory,” a nonprofit that provides music therapy to seniors and helps caregivers create personalized playlists for loved ones and patients with Alzheimer’s. The viability of the organization was demonstrated in 2011 when a video (below) of a man named Henry, who has Alzheimer’s, went viral online. Henry, who was typically unresponsive, was given an iPod loaded with some of his favorite songs from his youth. Not only did hearing the melodies again make his face light up, it gave him a brief period of lucidity where he was able to converse with an interviewer and remember some fond moments from his past.

In the video below, ABC News introduces us to an 82-year-old Alzheimer’s patient named Bill Paese, who sang in a barbershop quartet when he was younger. When he hears that music today, his wife says she’s able to get a glimpse of the man she married.

“He’s in there, and sometimes we get to see him,” she told the station.

Cohen is hoping to expand Music & Memory’s collection of about 10,000 donated iPods to one million.

Anyone who hopes to donate their iPods to Music & Memory can do so here.

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