Watching your loved ones lose their memories, begin to rely on caretakers and nurses, and finally stop recognizing you is incredibly painful.
But country singer Jay Allen turned his pain into a moving song, and he found an incredible way to share it with his fans last week.
"I know you're still in there, deep down somewhere."
Fans at the Dubuque County Fair didn't know what they were in for when Allen brought his mother, Sherry Rich, onstage towards the end of his set last week.
As Rich hugged him and smiled, Allen performed "Blank Stares," a song directly inspired by his mother's experiences with Alzheimer's.
In a press release about the song from earlier this year, Allen revealed that Rich, at only age 54, is "in the final stages and doesn't have long to live, but I still find hope in the long goodbye."
"I know you’re still in there, deep down somewhere," Allen sings in his song. "I swear I still see you, between the blank stares."
"Blank Stares" is also helping to improve the lives of Alzheimer's patients. iTunes proceeds from the song go to Abe's Garden, a memory care center in Nashville, Tennessee.
Allen says he hopes to inspire his fans to support the search for an Alzheimer's cure.
"My prayer is that this song becomes a mighty tool that ultimately helps end this nightmare disease."
"I had no idea it would blow up like this."
When Allen brought his mother onstage last week, music fan Lori Dittmer started taping from the crowd.
Posted by Lori Richard-Dittmer on Saturday, July 28, 2018
She later called the performance "one of the most beautiful things I've ever experienced," and shared it with her friends on Facebook.
"I hoped that maybe Jay would see it," Dittmer said. "I thought that would be pretty cool." Allen did see it, along with more than a million strangers who were touched and inspired by the video.
"My [mother-in-law] had this and it is so sad," one viewer commented. "His mom is so very young. Music stays with an Alzheimer patient the longest."
For Allen, the attention his song is getting is just "proof that we have the ability to take something bad and turn it into something good."
"Please continue to like and share," he urged his fans. "From the bottom of my heart, thank you."
In a past interview, Allen spoke about the comments and messages fans have shared about "Blank Stares," and what it means to them.
"We were just reading them and crying for, like, two hours driving back from Iowa. You realize you’re not the only one. You’re not alone. There are a lot of people out there dealing with it. It’s really cool just to feel like you’re a part of a community fighting against this thing."
Caring For Sherry
One of the most tragic parts of Allen's story is that his mother is too young to qualify for many of the financial benefits and subsidies Alzheimer's patients usually receive.
At the same time, she recently lost her full-time caretaker.
"For the past three years, our Uncle Pete (her younger brother), has selflessly been her caretaker," Allen wrote.
"He moved from Texas and has stayed with her full-time. He has been a blessing to our family, but has recently made the tough decision to move back to be with his mentally ill daughter."
With Allen's father working more than 60 hours a week, and the singer touring across the country, Rich's family are forced to rely on "basically a daycare for Alzheimer's patients."
Allen says his mother's care costs around $100 a day, while a round-the-clock center costs up to $5,000 a month. "We can't afford either," he wrote.
Sadly, while Allen has raised so much money and awareness for Alzheimer's, his own mother's care is in jeopardy because of these expensive costs.
The singer has started a GoFundMe for his mother, but so far it has only raised $14,000 of the $60,000 goal.