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Making Sense of Alzheimer’s is a creative space for people to understand the past, present and future of Alzheimer’s disease. It is an evolving forum, a gallery of ideas, a museum without walls.

Art of the Mind

About the work

Faye Hall’s Journey Through Dementia

By Shannon Simcox

Get a job.

I can’t afford to feed you.

Helen Goertzen, frustrated by the thieves who stole her food and moved items around her home, began leaving notes for the trespassers for the next time they returned. They never did, but the “thefts” continued, because Goertzen had been the one rearranging her own possessions.

Goertzen dealt with dementia for years, but denied it when her daughter, Faye Hall, attempted to point it out. Goertzen was particularly sensitive to how she thought others would perceive her disease.

“She would make up elaborate stories to cover up her forgetfulness.” Hall said. “She went through a lot.”

After Goertzen passed away in 2012, Hall found the notes that had been scattered around her mother’s home. She incorporated the notes in a portrait she painted of her mother titled “Journey Through Dementia.”

Using a gel medium, Hall spent four hours adding the notes to a sketch of her mother based on a photo taken a few months before she passed away. Hall described the photo as one in which Helen looked particularly fearful.

“It was a lot of feelings pouring out,” Hall said. “I was even thinking about how she must have felt when she wrote those notes; how she always lived in fear.

“I was trying to understand her fear. Your imagination goes wild. My mom’s reason was diminished and her emotion and imagination were taking over.”

The portrait was one of five Hall completed of her mother.

“She never liked them,” Hall said. “She didn’t like to think of herself as old and wrinkled.”

Hall said she received support from friends and family after publishing early photos of the work on Facebook. Today, the piece is an emotional outlet for others, who see their own loved ones in the painting.

“People need to know that they are not the only ones experiencing this and that…they shouldn’t feel guilty about having feelings about it either,” Hall said.

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