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Marcia Gay Harden discusses the first time her mom didn’t recognize her

Last year we discussed Marcia Gay Harden and her work with Notes to Remember to raise Alzheimer awareness. At that time, Marcia was in the process of writing a memoir about her mother, who was diagnosed in 2009. The book, The Seasons of My Mother, is out now and paints a beautiful but ultimately sad picture of the way Marcia is losing her mother and how important it is to be ready for it. She described the first time her mother couldn’t remember who she was and the beautiful response Marcia had for it.

Marcia Gay Harden knew the moment was inevitable. Still, it was no less heartbreaking when her beloved mother, Beverly, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, forgot who Harden was for the first time a few years ago.

“We were on the phone and she said, ‘I’m sorry, but who are you?’” writes Harden of the call with Beverly, 81, in a moving new memoir, The Seasons of My Mother, exclusively excerpted in this week’s issue of PEOPLE.

In her book, the Oscar-winning actress reflects on memories and lessons gleaned from Beverly’s life – as a mother, a creative force and a demure yet fierce wife of a Navy officer – while also opening up about her Alzheimer’s journey.

“I was prepared for it, it’d been coming on gradually, so there wasn’t really a shock. ‘It’s okay if you don’t remember me,’ I said. ‘I will always remember you.’“

Beverly was diagnosed in her early 70s after years of increasingly apparent memory issues. Her “clarity comes and goes”, says Harden, who, along with her brother and three sisters, pitches in to support her mom, now living with full-time care in her home state of Texas.

“Several months later [after the phone call], she said to me, ‘I know there is something important about you, but I can’t remember what it is,’ and then later, ‘When you walked in the room, I felt something happy, like there was something about your face that was special to me’.”

[From People]

It really is heart-breaking and lovely at the same time. I love the last part, about how her mother can’t remember her but senses there is something about Marcia that makes her happy. That has to be comforting to both of them. I mentioned before that I didn’t live near the relatives I lost to Alzheimer’s. My grandmother forgot my children when we spoke on the phone. Her Alzheimer’s was far enough when I brought my son to her the first time that I suspect she never knew who they were. I don’t know why but I think that made it easier. She loved being around them, regardless.

Marica wrote this memoir for a couple of reasons. Of course, this book will raise awareness and help people prepare for the inevitable once the diagnosis is made. But Marica also wrote the memoir so that the mother she knew, and all of her wonderful traits and stories, can live on even as she disappears mentally. I think that’s such a beautiful love note to her mother. I’m glad her mom still has moments of clarity because that will allow her to know, if even for a moment, that who she was will live on.

Photo credit: WENN Photos

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