When Rene Wuillermin was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2005, doctors encouraged her to take up hobbies that would keep her mind active, like crocheting.
“It started with the squares,” Wuillermin’s daughter, Sara, tells PEOPLE of her mother’s work. “As the disease advanced, it became circles and it got to the point where she was just carrying around the yarn and the needles and just kind of working the motions, but not actually making anything anymore.
Sara, of Wilmington, Delaware, uploaded a photo of 14 of her mother’s crocheted patches. In the shot, the patches gradually go from perfect squares to simple clumps of yarn.
“It’s just like watching somebody slowly unravel,” Sara, 34, says. “It’s like watching my mom lose all the different motor skills and abilities. I guess I wasn’t aware of all the different ways that the disease affects a person.”
She says her mother made dozens of patches since her diagnosis up until 2007. When Wuillermin was no longer able to crochet, the family packed her tools away. However, Sara says she was tempted to pull the patches out recently.
“When I finally found them, took them out and laid them out, it was emotional. I hadn’t seen them in so long,” she says, noting that she decided to share it on Reddit and Facebook. “I wanted people to really understand what’s happening for her sake and even just for my family to better understand what the process is.”
Wuillermin’s story has made headlines in recent weeks, and the image has been shared on Facebook more than 1,000 times, Sara says. However, her mother, now 66, isn’t able to comprehend much.
“At this point, my mom, she’s stage four so she’s pretty far advanced. She’s been nonverbal for quite a while,” Sara tells PEOPLE. “She really is kind of at the point where there’s not a whole lot of recognition or understanding of what’s happening around her.”
Wuillermin’s husband and caretaker look after her at her Hammonton, New Jersey, home and Sara says she visits to help as often as she can.
“I give my dad so much credit for the way that he stepped up and just fully embraced the idea of for better or worse,” Sara says through tears. “He has been adamant about doing everything that he can to care for her … The one silver lining is you really get to understand what it means to love a person.”
Sara, who was just 22 when her mother was diagnosed, says the illness has robbed her of precious time with her mother.
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“One of the hardest things about this is that I was just getting to the point of understanding her as a person — I had only known her as my mother,” she says. “This past decade has been trying to understand who she is and who she was.”
She adds: “I know that I have a lot of her in me, but it’s almost like trying to discover someone through these clues around you: stories of other people, photographs and other people’s memories. It’s kind of like trying to stitch all of that together.”
As she’s seen the affects of the disease first-hand, Sara encourages everyone to donate to the Alzheimer’s Association.