100. A Beautiful Tragedy

100. A Beautiful Tragedy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

A Beautiful Tragedy

Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.


“Out of the mouths of babes,” a biblical phrase, refers to the sometimes surprising brilliance of a child’s perspective. So it was when my twelve-year-old granddaughter accompanied me on a visit to see my mom. Mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s several years earlier. I made the 250-mile drive to visit her every month or so, and the changes in her memory and behavior were subtle to me. But my granddaughter hadn’t seen her in months, and the changes shocked her.

Mother never made the connection to our identities. She didn’t know I was her son, didn’t know I had brought her great-granddaughter to see her. One of her regular patterns was to point at a photo on the wall and say, “See my family? I had a great big, wonderful family.”

The photo was one taken at her home thirty years earlier, and there she was, seated in a chair, with all four of her children behind her. The decorations showed clearly that we had gathered for a Christmas at her home.

My granddaughter was unusually quiet on the long drive home. Normally a loquacious girl, she stared out the window at the Texas landscape for much of the four-hour drive. When she spoke, it was to ask questions about Mom, like, “What was her marriage like?” Or, “Was she a happy person?”

It was strange, fielding these questions from a twelve-year-old, and stranger still that she seemed so affected by our visit. She wiped a tear now and then, as did I. I was surprised at hers. My tears were because I knew my mother had lost eighty years worth of wonderful memories. I didn’t think my granddaughter had the life experience to appreciate that.

A few weeks later I was invited to go hear my granddaughter perform at a music café. She was a budding songwriter, and a decent musician at age twelve, and I loved watching her few opportunities to shine in public. When it was her turn, she announced that she had written a song in honor of my mother — a surprise. The song was called “That Same December.”

The song was sweet, and one of its phrases, “you feel there’s something to remember, always stuck in that same December,” was so poignant I was choking back tears. The lyrics took me back to the phrase: “out of the mouths of babes.”

I had worried about my granddaughter’s comprehension of Mother’s disease, worried about her moodiness on the way home, wondered if the visit presented questions about life too tough for a twelve-year-old mind.

But her lyrics put things in better perspective than I had been able to:

“A well-kept heart, but a broken mind,

Thoughts so lost, too hard to find,

Memories dissolve away each broken heart and your wedding day,

You can’t recall any suffering,

Oh, what a beautiful tragedy.”

In that moment, in that song, I found such hope and inspiration. I had cried because Mom couldn’t remember her family that loved her, couldn’t recall her wedding day, but I realized that she also couldn’t recall any suffering.

She was a good, loving woman, faithful to my father, loyal to her family. I needed to be taken back to her well-kept heart, and stop seeing only her broken mind.

A twelve-year-old helped me see that Alzheimer’s can, in fact, be a beautiful tragedy.

~Danny Carpenter

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