People with dementia sometimes develop new habits or routines that family members or caregivers find challenging.  One of mom’s habits in her last years of living alone was to pick up small stones or rocks when she was out walking.  She brought them home and created a rock collection.  If asked, she would pick them up one by one and marvel at them.  “Look at how smooth this one is,” she might say.  Or “Doesn’t this one sparkle just like it’s jewelry?”  “Sure, mom.”  One was smooth and one had a little sparkle, but these were just ordinary rocks.  I wanted to appreciate her child-like wonder, but I also knew that someday those piles and pots and bags of rocks would be mine and Ron’s to clean out.   

Yesterday as mom and I walked around the edge of the property where she lives, mom felt a rock beneath her shoe.  She paused and would have bent down to pick it up.  But her balance isn’t what it used to be, and she recognized this.  “Why don’t you bend down and pick up that rock for me?  We could take it back and put it in a pot,” she suggested.  I tried to think of a distraction, something to get us walking again and leave the rock behind.  But I couldn’t think of anything. 

“Mom, you don’t really have extra space for a rock collection where you live now.”   

“But I do have a few pots with plants, right?”   


“Then pick it up, we’ll put it in one of the pots.”   

I suppose I was tired or my patience was thin, because contrary to my usual efforts, I didn’t play along.  I didn’t do what she asked.  I didn’t pick up the rock.  I made some weak excuse, and we kept walking.  I knew she would forget in minutes if not seconds, and I knew there was no real reason to put a rock in her flower pot.   

She took a few slow, stiff steps and then she spoke again.  “You know why it’s good to have a rock in your flower pot, don’t you?”   

I was surprised that we were still talking about this.  “I don’t know, mom.  Why?  Because they are pretty?”   

“No, because rocks absorb water and then let it out real slow-like, so it’s good for the plant.” 

I… was… speechless.  Dad was the scientist.  Dad was the one who explained things.  Even before dementia, mom didn’t talk like this.  She didn’t explain why things happened or the reasons behind things.  I think I just stared back at her for a moment.   

“You didn’t know I knew all that, did you?”  She asked.  Then she giggled, “I didn’t know I knew all that either!”  Her sense of humor has been active lately.  The conversation went on and we kept walking.  It was only after she was back indoors and I was driving away that I realized we never picked up a rock for her to place in a flower pot in her room.   

We didn’t pick one up because I, in all my judgmental wisdom, knew that there was no good reason to pick one up.  But mom knew better.  Mom knew a scientific reason to pick up a rock and to place in a flower pot.  But she also knows that rocks can be really smooth and sometimes really sparkly.  And those are good reasons too. 

Before I go visit tomorrow, I plan to pick up a rock and bring it to her.  She will always know some things that I don’t know.     


4 thoughts on “Reasons to pick up rocks

  1. I am just home from having spent a week with my mother who has dementia. She has a small apartment in a senior living community, and though her short term memory seems non-existent, she has lots of family history to share and plays the piano beautifully. As you expressed your emotions and time with your mom, it helps to remind me to focus on the positives that mom still has and shares.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If we could all be that rock for at least one person in our lives (if not many) “absorbing love and then letting it out real slow-like” – good for everyone! Reading your latest gave me chills and full tear ducts – again. So appreciate your perceptive and thought-provoking writing and the ability to connect and resonate with any one of us (whether we have close loved ones with dementia or not).

    Liked by 1 person

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