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These images are how one woman tried to cope with her mother's Alzheimer's diagnosis

Mom in Mexico City, a year prior to her Alzheimer's diagnosis. She was already showing symptoms — misplacing things, withdrawing from social activities, changes in her mood and increased memory loss.
Alicia Vera
Mom in Mexico City, a year prior to her Alzheimer's diagnosis. She was already showing symptoms — misplacing things, withdrawing from social activities, changes in her mood and increased memory loss.

There is a term — ambiguous loss — that is used to illustrate the impossible-to-describe situation of the loss of a person who remains here physically but may not be mentally or emotionally present. When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2018, her diagnosis left me devastated, anxious and hopeless. How to grapple with the slow erasure of my mother even as she remains here with us?

"Va a Llover Toda la Noche," which translates to "It's going to rain all night," is my desperate attempt to cope with her prognosis. In this work, I bridge her past, one I know only via her telling (and which disappears more each day as her illness advances); our present, which is equally deeply affected; and our future together, the contours of which change with each passing day. This project is my effort to create a dialogue about ambiguous loss, to process my own grief and to reinterpret my relationship with my mother in a way that attempts to understand her illness.

Mom and her orchids in Miami.
/ Alicia Vera
/
Alicia Vera
Mom and her orchids in Miami.

Alzheimer's disease is primarily characterized by loss of memory and declining cognitive function. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and Latinxs are 1.5 times more likely to develop the disease than non-Latinx white people. The National Institute of Health estimates that Latinxs with Alzheimer's disease will increase nine-fold by 2060, affecting 3.5 million people.

Glimpses of my mom's youth in Mexico.
/ Alicia Vera
/
Alicia Vera
Glimpses of my mom's youth in Mexico.

In "Va a Llover Toda la Noche," I weave images from my mother's existing archive, my personal archive and messages from my family to explore the present and future that her illness robs us of. Using brain scans of patients with Alzheimer's as a jumping-off point, I make interventions on these images that mimic my interpretation of what the disease does to my mother's memories. This work engages with the challenging emotions of grieving a loved one with Alzheimer's disease through the unique lens of our mother-daughter relationship with the goal of connecting my own struggles of loss and grief with the broader community of those affected.

Mom poses for a portrait while at a party.
/ Alicia Vera
/
Alicia Vera
Mom poses for a portrait while at a party.
A text from my brother.
/ Alicia Vera
/
Alicia Vera
A text from my brother.
Mom poses for a portrait in Miami.
/ Alicia Vera
/
Alicia Vera
Mom poses for a portrait in Miami.
Emails from my mom, dated 2009-2013. One of the first signs of dementia is the loss of cognitive function that can cause seniors to struggle with the use of technology. These days, she has forgotten how to use a computer, and her cell phone causes her anxiety.
/ Alicia Vera
/
Alicia Vera
Emails from my mom, dated 2009-2013. One of the first signs of dementia is the loss of cognitive function that can cause seniors to struggle with the use of technology. These days, she has forgotten how to use a computer, and her cell phone causes her anxiety.
Mom, surrounded by flowers, poses for a portrait in Mexico.
/ Alicia Vera
/
Alicia Vera
Mom, surrounded by flowers, poses for a portrait in Mexico.

See more of Alicia Vera's work on her website, AliciaVera.com, and her Instagram profile, @aliciavera.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alicia Vera