An Austin artist channels her mother's life with — and death from — Alzheimer's disease
As Lou Ann Bardash traveled between Austin and Illinois to care for her mother Doris, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, she developed an overwhelming desire to understand what it must feel like to be falling into the Alzheimer’s abyss.
While it was heartbreaking to see her mother suffer, at times it was difficult for Bardash to deal with all that came with it, such as Doris repeating herself over and over and sometimes accusing her daughter of lying to her.
But mostly Bardash wanted to understand how it felt to be her mother.
"A common question for anyone dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer’s is, 'Does she still remember you?’ My answer: ‘It doesn’t matter. I remember her.’”
November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness for the more than 5 million Americans suffering from this illness and the caregivers who watch over them. Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, eventually becoming severely debilitating.
“You feel so alone with this disease, because it creeps up on you," says Bardash. "It’s inside, and it’s easy to ignore until you can’t. I have heard so many caregivers say that many family members quit coming around as the disease progresses. They don’t want to see the person in such a state. That is so sad, because that is when they need us the most.”
An artist and musician, Bardash used her creativity to help deal with the disease’s progression in her mother. “One day I was in my studio, and for some reason was struck by the phrase, ‘What must it feel like to be losing all of your memories. All gone.’ I literally wrote that on the painting. From there I just kind of went crazy, and the story poured out of me."
And on to her canvas. Bardash eventually created a collection of pieces that she titled "Remember Me … Don’t Fade Away." She says it was very therapeutic to be able to get her feelings out through an artistic outlet — even more so after her mother died in July 2012.
“That is when I really had time to think about everything and be sad and angry and all of the things that you feel when someone is just gone,” Bardash says. “You would think with an eight-year lead in, you would be used to the idea of the final fade. But you are never ready for how it will feel."
An artist and musician, Bardash eventually used her creative side to help deal with the disease’s progression in her mother.
The “ghostly figure” that is an element in many of her paintings was a last-minute addition. “The paintings had never felt done before, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why,” Bardash says. “Then a friend of mine and I were talking, and I was mentioning how much a part of these pieces mom was; I felt she was next to me as I was painting them. I wanted to represent that. I was inspired [to paint] the faces by the one piece that is on wood that is called Yesterday. I literally found the character in that painting in the wood. She is so strong and ghostly and fading away — and she pointed the way for the other faces. This work represents me going much deeper than I ever have before.”
As Bardash finished the pieces, she still had no idea what she would do with them. At her day job at United Way’s 2-1-1 Call Center, she did some tapings for channelAustin, where she met Executive Director Linda Litowsky. Bardash asked for a meeting to get some on-camera tips. The meeting took an unexpected turn when Litowsky suggested doing an art show and live taping of Bardash’s collection at the channelAustin studios.
“I was taken by Lou Ann's cubicle and her colorful art work,” Litowsky says of their first meeting at United Way. The opening reception took place on November 13, during which a live taping aired on channelAustin. The show was curated by Shannon Gowan, and channelAustin conducted interviews about Alzheimer’s with area professionals. The interviews, along with footage of the exhibit, have been complied into an hourlong documentary.
“My specific journey with my mom has now ended, but the memories remaining are both haunting and wonderful,” says Bardash. “I have tried to capture these deeply personal experiences using this painting series in the hopes that others will find a better understanding of the process of the disease and maybe find some peace. A common question for anyone dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer’s is, ‘Does she still remember you?’ My answer: ‘It doesn’t matter. I remember her.’”
"Remember Me… Don’t Fade Away" will be on display at channelAustin, (1143 Northwestern Avenue), through the end of January.
Long time Austin resident Lou Ann Bardash has worked both as a solo performer and a studio session singer. A self-taught visual artist who is always seeking to expand and evolve her work, Bardash continues to exhibit her pieces around town.
November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Caregiver Month. In the United States, there are more than 15 million Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers, and this is the month we honor them. Find out more here.
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