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Celebration of Life

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Thank you so much to everyone who sent their condolences and warm wishes regarding the death of my mother. It meant a lot to me.

I was on sailing vacation in the Caribbean when I heard the news; the  funeral was to be held very quickly, and I knew I couldn’t make it back in time. With an illness like Alzheimer’s Disease, relatives have a long long time for farewells. I feel that I had been saying good-bye, and grieving, for two years.

Interestingly, I had taken on vacation with me a book on the topic, which I highly recommend to anyone who has family or friends suffering from this horrid disease: Still Alice, by Lisa Genova.

So while I sadly wasn’t able to be there, I wanted to share with you that I heard that more than 400 people came to my mother’s funeral. It was wonderful to hear that my mother was, after all, so well loved. At the same time, it was disheartening, because: where were all those people when she lay in the nursing home for many years? I still believe that the stigma attached to dementia instills in people a fear to face it. When the brain of friends or loved ones no longer works in the way we are accustomed to, it is easier to disappear out of their lives. “They won’t know the difference” …. NOT true! I even got funny looks for spending eight hours a day on my mother’s bedside, the last couple of years I was able to be there on my annual visit.

in 2009, we had no idea how much further the disease would progress
in 2009, we had no idea how much further the disease would progress

But I don’t want to blame. It is only to be a reminder: be brave, and sit with your uncomfortableness – be there.

Our brother Peter, who had been carrying the majority of  responsibility for the care of our mother
Our brother Peter, who had been carrying the majority of responsibility for the care of our mother

What I really wanted to communicate is that at my mother’s funeral, there was a real sense of celebrating  her life, rather than mourning her death. I believe this is partially due to the incredibly sweet coffin my dear brother Peter found for our mother. She had always loved art, and was quite a painter herself. This hand-painted, one-of-a-kind coffin in its cheerful yellow, with flowers and grasses, seemed to uplift the entire congregation. There is a little video (in German) of the “coffin-painter” ici. I am very happy for Peter’s choice.

The wonderful, hand-painted, one-of-a-kind coffin
The wonderful, cheerfully hand-painted coffin

May she rest in Peace Peace Peace!

Finally re-united with our father, who was buried here in 1883
Finally re-united with our father, who was buried here in 1883

I remember her when I use one of the limited edition cups she collected annually at the Munich Octoberfest.

one of my mom's special collection of cups
one of my mom’s special collection of cups at my breakfast table this morning




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  1. Peace indeed D, and thanks for the reminder. We are afraid of infirmity; other peoples’ suffering reminds us of our potential, perhaps inevitable losses. I know I am afraid of my self-conscious clumsiness; ‘saying the wrong thing” and ‘setting them off’, I’m also afraid of compromising someone’s dignity – I wonder if their ‘old self’ would be upset at being witnessed in a vulnerable, hell, ‘ugly’ state. I still have these first response fears, even though I have experienced the communion and peace of being present for someone in such a journey (though I have not had such a long vigil as you and your mom). I hope I will remember to, as you say, sit with uncomfortableness and be there. And what a wonderful Coffin! – wow, that’s a sentence I’ve never written before! xo mc

    • Thanks, Mary-Colin! It truly is a learning curve to figure out how to BE around people with dementia. I can only vow to give it more of a try, to be braver in the face of it. It is a tricky line, as you say. And yes, is that not a cool coffin. I am half thinking I ought to start painting my own, just to have it around, to cheer those up who will attend my funeral one day!
      Much love,

  2. Hi Dorethee
    Thank YOU so much for sharing this chapter about your mother’s life and passing. You must take comfort from the nature of her farewell and funeral; that she was treated befittingly with such a beautiful service, adorned casket and loved ones attending. Yes, it is sad that during her last life stages there may have not have been many visitors. People are still so scared, shy, worried, unknowing about what to do in the presence of someone with dementia. As time moves on there must be more awareness created about this challenging illness and how to comfort those suffering from it. Touching messages like yours are a fitting start!
    My mom passed away this past summer with some dementia, and it was heartbreaking to see her go on living through the changes that were her destiny.
    Your love for your mom will always be there and you know how much you cared for her.
    Wishing you all the best as you heal in the knowledge that others care, and you have care enough to share.

  3. Thank you so much, Kathryn!
    I am sorry to hear of your loss, as well. I must say, I still have not processed the passing of my mother yet completely, I think.

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