How Kimberly Williams-Paisley Learned to Love Again Facing Mother's Dementia

"It's been agonizing to slowly lose her," the actress said of her mother.

ByABC News
February 7, 2014, 4:34 PM
In this file photo, Kimberly Williams-Paisley is pictured on Nov. 21, 2013 in New York City.
In this file photo, Kimberly Williams-Paisley is pictured on Nov. 21, 2013 in New York City.
Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images

Feb. 7, 2014 — -- Less than a decade ago, Kimberly Williams-Paisley had to deal with the shocking news that her mother, Linda, had been diagnosed with a form of dementia that has no cure or treatment.

Her mother was 61 at the time.

"Since then, I've watched a passionately joyful woman, a devoted mother, an engaged listener and friend deteriorate and transform into someone almost unrecognizable. It's been agonizing to slowly lose her," Williams-Paisley said in an essay for Redbook titled "How I Faced My Mother's Dementia."

Williams-Paisley, 42, explained that the condition got so bad, her mother would order nachos at Starbucks and forget how to spell Chicago.

"Almost every time we had dinner together, a glass broke or a plate of food wound up on the floor," she said. "She ate spaghetti with her fingers. She had accidents and falls that landed her in the ER."

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After the actress and her husband country star Brad Paisley's first child, Huck, was born in 2007, the baby and grandmother Linda bonded almost immediately.

"She couldn't change his diapers, but when they sat on the floor with a spinning top or a jack-in-the-box, my mother's heart and silliness shone, and their energies matched," she said.

When things got much, much worse years later, long-term care was needed.

"The move was the hardest change my tight-knit family has ever had to endure," she added.

As expected, her visits to her mother were incredibly hard as she watched her mother continue to change.

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"I usually broke down after I got home, sobbing so uncontrollably that I was sore the next day," she said. "Then, unexpectedly, I discovered a kind of healing. At a party, I found myself talking with two women whose parents suffered from dementia."

Through talking with these women, she knew "I needed to love my mother in a different way. The innocent way Huck did" years before.

She flew to see her mother the next day and something magical happened. After reminding her mother exactly who she was, she gained her attention.

"It took a few moments. But when she saw me, her eyes opened wide," she said. "Her mouth lifted into a wide, happy grin, as though I was one of the greatest surprises of her life. We sat like that for a while, smiling at each other.... I focused on this new person in front of me, in many ways a stranger. She radiated a peace that comes from having little self-awareness."

From that point on, she tried different techniques to relate to her mother and said, "She is, in many ways, a 'new' mom."

This connection allows the actress to also remember the woman she used to be.

"In the living room of my mom's new home, I wrapped my arms around this changed woman," she said. "Then I got up to get her some juice and a straw. When I came back to her, she had forgotten me. But joy spread on her face as she discovered me for the first time all over again. We both cheered."