Daughter of Italian immigrants, Maria was born in 1928, in the city of São Pedro, State of São Paulo. She had 1 sister and 4 brothers, one of whom died as a child. In childhood, she moved to Jataizinho, in the State of Paraná.
The mother died when Maria was 5 years old. The brothers ended up separating and some went to live with different family members in different regions. Maria stayed at her father's house with her younger brother.
She studied until the third year of primary school. Maria was catholic and got married at 17 when she moved to São Paulo and had 3 children, all men. She worked doing laundry, ironing and as a kitchen assistant at Fundação Bradesco for 16 years. After that period, she worked as a nanny for some families.
In the 1980s, she moved in with her son Ivan and her daughter-in-law Neuza. There, she helped care for her granddaughters. It was in the daily routine of the house, between the care of the granddaughters and the domestic chores, that Ivan and Neuza began to notice the signs of dementia, most strongly in 2006. Maria, who was so careful, started to make some mistakes, such as burning her son's shirts while ironing, forgetting recipes she had always made, leaving the stove on, putting away dirty panties. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2008. In 2014, she fell and had a fractured femur. Since then, Maria left her son's house and went to the Institution named "Amor e Dedicação" (Love and Dedication). Ivan visits his mother every day after work.
The first time I went to Ivan and Neuza's house, Maria had just suffered the accident and was recovering at another son's house. I spent a long afternoon talking to them. At the time, Maria was independent - she ate, showered and got dressed by herself. She also recognized family members and was able to remember things, people's names and addresses. According to Ivan, “the biggest problem is the logic. She has her own logic. For example, one day she saw the children's pool at the back of the yard and the water was green. She said it was like that to avoid dengue (a viral disease which is not fought that way). The other day, she washed her underwear and hung them in the backyard. There was so much space, but she hung them by the pool. When I asked her why, she said it was sunnier there. But that wasn't logical, it's sunny in the whole yard. Or the logic only exists in her head. She has an answer for everything. In fact, we all have this play on words, on language, but my mother became shrewder about it. She has an answer on the tip of her tongue. Once there was coffee spilled on the table and when I asked, she said 'no, it wasn't me!'. Her answers sometimes leave us in a bad position”. Neuza, Ivan's wife, added: Maria kept her dirty panties in the closet and when she went to talk to her she would go “I didn't do that!”.
“People try to assert themselves, right? We’ve learned this since childhood: cry, gain something. So, in a way, that's it. It is the ego trying to dominate, to assert itself. Once, the doctor asked my mother why she was there. She said ‘oh, it's because of forgetfulness, right? But it is like that, old people remember the past more!’. So, while there is cognitive backup, it is justified”, continued Ivan.
I met Maria 5 years after this conversation with Ivan and Neuza. In the nursing home where she was, she came to talk to me, walking very slowly, supported by one of the employees. When she saw me, she smiled, as if she knew me. What caught my attention, at first glance, was the good mood and the willingness she had to interact with me. Despite some confusion with words, Maria talked for a long time. She spoke of her children, her daughter-in-law, of work as a school lunch lady, of losing her mother when she was still a child. It was then that one of the nursing home's employees told me that Maria sometimes sang in the middle of the night and woke many up. From then on, among memories, forgetfulness and inventions, singing set the tone to our meetings. There were days when she sang the same song for six minutes. At other times, she joined different melodies as if they were one; sometimes she would stop in the middle for having forgotten the lyrics. "I've swallowed a piece"; "It didn't arrive"; "I was wrong, call it a night".
The beauty of listening to Dona Maria singing, the affection and companionship between Ivan and Neuza and the sparkle in their eyes when talking about their mother - Maria is considered a mother by her daughter-in-law - are scenes which have inhabited me ever since.