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Kimberly Williams-Paisley on Mother's Dementia: I Had to Learn to Love Her Again

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Janet Gough/Celebrity Photo

When Kimberly Williams-Paisley‘s mother was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a rare form of dementia, the Nashville actress struggled to cope.

“I’ve watched a passionately joyful woman, a devoted mother, an engaged listener and friend deteriorate and transform into someone almost unrecognizable,” Williams-Paisley, wife of country superstar Brad Paisley, writes in a heartbreaking but powerful personal essay for Redbook. “It’s been agonizing to slowly lose her.”

Her mom, Linda Williams, became another person due to her disease, unable to write clearly, recall certain words or even pronounce the name of her grandson Jasper, now 4½.

Eventually, Williams became too erratic to live at home with her husband, so she was taken to a long-term care facility.

“The move was the hardest change my tight-knit family has ever had to endure,” writes Williams-Paisley, 42. “Our visits were agonizing for me. I couldn’t look at her without seeing a fading picture of who she used to be. I resented this mostly manic, dangerous, crazy woman who had taken over my mother’s body.”

But Williams-Paisley found solace after talking to friends with similar experiences: She realized she had to love her mother in a new, “innocent” way. She learned to communicate wordlessly and found peace in small gestures, like rubbing cream on her mother’s dry hands. And now, she says, she can remember her mother as she used to be without succumbing to the pain of her loss.

“She is, in many ways, a ‘new’ mom. But now it’s easier to welcome memories of her as she used to be,” Williams-Paisley writes. “I remember her as I run, the way she always used to, into a cold ocean when no one else wants to. I’m sure I know how she felt as I listen to my own children with all my heart.”