The difference between mind and memory – In Memory of Mary Elizabeth Tobin RSCJ

September 25th, 2012 → 1:06 pm @ // No Comments

I knew I had finally found the right title for my book when an elder I was visiting repeated several times after I said the title – “Isn’t that a great title?” Then she asked me to repeat the title after which she repeated again, “Isn’t that a great title?” When this same exchange repeated itself on my third visit to Maribeth, I realized that she acted like she had never heard the title before in her life.

Shortly after leaving Maribeth in her room, her caregiver confided that Maribeth makes her understand the difference between the mind and memory.

It was clear that Maribeth, a retired brilliant college professor turning 90, sharp as tacks, still had a very quick active mind, but she couldn’t remember what was said a minute ago let alone a week ago.

When my Mom would try to identify me, she would often mistake me for my sister’s oldest child. I just could not grasp how she could say that. It made me feel like I was walking in another dimension almost like I was just in a car accident and I didn’t know what happened. As caregivers, we cannot catch up with the invisible distortions of a demented mind. So how do we walk in the shoes of the cognitively impaired?

Since I now work with the bereaved families and friends, I often find myself helping someone through the confused, often traumatic, shocked early raw stages of loss/grief. Clients express numbness often like Novocain – that is slowly wearing off after dental work. Or, sudden breakdowns – waves of grief – when they reach for their loved one’s hand in the morning half-asleep then remember slowly that he/she is dead.

To walk in their shoes we have to experience what it feels like to lose your memory. Education about dementia and bereavement is absolutely necessary to understanding the special communications needed.

“As Long as You Sing, I’ll Dance” by Julia Soto Lebentritt is available at and





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