Beginning at the End:
Portraits of Dementia by Joe Wallace

© 2019 Joe Wallace

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Martha Jordan

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When I met Martha Viola Jordan, I could immediately tell that hers was a story not easily told. Martha was in a wheelchair with her eyes closed and making expressions and sounds of anguish. I was unsure if it was the right time to talk with her and make a portrait together. Her daughter Pauline reassured me that Martha was often like this and would respond to her touch and voice. Sure enough, as Pauline held hands with Martha and kissed her, she shared stories about her mother and the experiences they shared.

Born in 1930, Martha and her 12 siblings grew up in Rutland Vermont. She had several jobs over her lifetime including home cleaner, waitress and working at the local paper mill. She loved flowers and was active in her church. I asked Pauline about Martha’s anxiety and tension and she explained that her mother had been married to a mentally and physically abusive husband her entire life.

 

Martha’s torment was amplified when two of her daughters married abusive men. With her dementia, Martha couldn’t remember that her husband Don was dead so she was constantly worried about what might happen next. When I asked Pauline how her mother advised her to cope with her own abusive husband, she explained that after she finally got divorced her mom jokingly told her to "never marry that man again!” As soon as Pauline uttered these words, Martha opened her eyes wide and said “NEVER AGAIN!!” This was the first time Martha had opened her eyes or spoken that day. It was an electric, special moment - a vibrant reminder that so much love, compassion and connection is possible even you think that person may be gone from you.

 

Pauline gave her now silent mother a kiss on the forehead and we said goodbye. A few weeks later on October 11, 2017 Martha passed away.


Martha’s story is a difficult one to hear in many ways. It’s a story of abuse, shattered dreams and broken promises. But it’s also a story of love, perseverance and forgiveness.