Posted by: yourpaltom | November 30, 2015

Community memory

ALZHEIMER'S

“Thank you for taking my picture. I won’t remember you, but remember that.” Dot Mahoney poses for a photograph. While their caretakers learn new ways of coping in a class at South Salem Senior Center, people with Alzheimer’s Disease make new friends on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2010.

Having worked in community newspapers for more than a decade, one project in particular sticks out for creating a truly mutual exchange between a subject and me. I spent a year with Ivan and Dot Mahoney, trying to immerse myself in their daily experience as a couple married 63 years confronted the continual slippage, and the daily disappointments, due to Dot’s Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Ivan Mahoney visits his wife, Dot, at the memory-care facility in Salem, Ore., where she now lives. The couple has been married for 63 years.

Only after Dot passed away and my story was published, did I see the work as a whole. On the publication date I brought Ivan a stack of newspapers, and he told me that a stranger had come up to him on the street and hugged him after reading about him and his devotion to his dying wife. Ivan’s neighbors, who previously had no idea about his struggle, came over to mow the lawn and drop off dinner. The day of Dot’s funeral, Ivan took time out of his emotional day to talk with me about the nature of relationships, how they were truly the point of living. And that night I asked my now-wife to marry me.

I came to realize that in telling the story of one relationship, and how it changed and did not change as it grew old, I was also telling the story of a larger community. The Alzheimer’s Network asked to share the story, and together we created a fundraiser called A Night To Remember. Many members of the community saw themselves, or their parents, in Ivan and Dot. They related to the story. And as a result, they helped create a small measure of change.

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After Dot Mahoney is honored in a memorial service at Salem Evangelical Church, Ivan, her husband of 63 years adjusts to his new life without her on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011.

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