Marianne Jones and her mum lean their heads together and smile Credit: Marianne Jones

“Dementia has taken my mother from me – but her scrapbook has helped us reconnect”

Editor and podcaster Marianne Jones was sifting through her mum’s belongings when she made an emotional discovery.

Packing up a lifetime of Mum’s possessions was never going to be an easy task. 

But a few weeks ago, my sister, Vanna, and I arrived at her bungalow, put the kettle on and began the job. 

Our beautiful mum, Maria, 82, isn’t dead. But nor is she really with us. She is in the latter stages of dementia that has left her unable to walk, talk or recognise us, and we have had to reluctantly sell her house to pay the care fees of her nursing home. 

It was last November when we walked the tiny centre of our world out of her front door, soothing her with false promises that she’d be back soon. But she will never return. 

My sister, who was Mum’s official carer, could no longer cope with what became a relentless, 24-hour a day role, so rapid was the march of Mum’s vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

That day in the bungalow, with a mixture of heavy hearts and laughter, we filled charity bags with jumpers, handbags she’d never use again, and mountains of shoes that would have put Imelda Marcos to shame. 

As the evening drew in, we ordered takeaways and braced ourselves for the most bittersweet of jobs – sorting through mum’s personal belongings. 

Among a lifetime of birthday cards, letters and baby pictures, I opened a box that contained a slightly scruffy brown paper A4 scrapbook that I’d never seen before. 

Spilling from its pages were mountains of articles I’d written, spanning my 35 years as a journalist, cut out, stuck down and dated.  


This tangible act of love and pride was so overwhelming, I couldn’t deal with it that night. I simply closed the pages and brought it home, along with Mum’s favourite floral dress that still carried a hint of her Jo Malone perfume, and a handful of swirly 1970s photo albums. 

The book remained unopened in my garden office until, of all things, watching the recent and wonderful Wham! documentary prompted me into action. The narrative was based around the 40-something scrapbooks Andrew Ridgeley’s mum had kept over the years, charting the success of George Michael and her son. 

The next day I cleared a couple of hours and headed to my office, accompanied by my cockapoo for furry emotional support.  

Inside that scrapbook were memories that reconnected me like a thread to the mum I used to know. I could picture her in the living room with a cup of tea, scissors and a biro, smiling to herself. 

There are yellowing cuttings from my local newspaper days in the early 1990s, one of them accompanying a picture of me with a terrible perm. There’s my final editor’s letter at a glossy magazine, on which she’d written “Last one at Grazia”, a Marie Claire interview with Monica Lewinsky that I thought I’d lost, and a picture of me with Julie Walters, whom we both adored, at a shoot for a newspaper supplement I edited.  

There is one cutting that is so evocative I almost stained the paper with tears. It is a photo shoot of Mum and my late stepdad George, months before they married in 1994, for an article about “second time round” wedding outfits. 

Mum leapt at the chance to travel to London and be pictured as a chic bride, in lilac Frank Usher, hair blow-dried, make-up immaculate. I recall her telling me she’d “felt like a queen” that day, and joy radiates from her face.  

It was a day I’d consigned to my memory bank, and the sight of Mum finally discovering happiness (she’d been single since my dad left us when I was eight) broke me. I wouldn’t have remembered that moment, or much of my own history, had it not been for the care she took to preserve it. 

She certainly won’t remember it now, as the last five years have seen her memory and communication skills slip completely away. But in the coming days I plan to take the scrapbook with me to her care home, show her the pictures and tell her how much I appreciate what she did. 

It has made me wish I’d had the foresight to bottle more memories of Mum. I regret not having any proper video of her, as I’ve all but forgotten what her voice and her laughter sound like. She is mostly expressionless now, although, during my last visit, there was a beautiful moment when she woke up, smiled and reached out to touch my face. That smile is now preserved forever, as my husband took a picture of it.   

These tangible moments, as I’ve come to realise, are so important. Memories fade sooner than you think, while words and pictures captured on paper and not simply stored in phones, are physical, enduring and can be handed on. 

When I showed the scrapbook to my two semi grown-up sons, they admitted not having come across one before. Nor have they ever kept a traditional diary – which I’m happy to report I have since the age of 11 (they’re not alone, as a recent survey reported that only 23% of Brits keep a paper diary). 

And although I used to tear my hair out at the faff of it, I’m now thankful that I painstakingly created and captioned annual photobooks for my boys throughout their childhood, which they declared to be their favourite present every Christmas. 

Tangible moments are so important. Memories fade sooner than you think.

While I’ve always been extremely close to Mum, I’ve come to learn that hers was a love than was demonstrated rather than spoken. I don’t remember her fully expressing her emotions until she had grandchildren. Her life was tough as a young single mother of three on a 1970s northern council estate. Saying “I love you” to a family member would have probably prompted the question: “Have you gone soft?” 

But this carefully-curated scrapbook – along with Mum’s insistence on hand-knitted sweaters, meals cooked from scratch and a scrubbed front step – is the most practical and perfect love letter she could ever leave behind. 

Dementia UK is a charity that supports families living with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Call its free helpline on 0800 888 6678 or email 

Marianne Jones

Written by Marianne Jones


A multi-award-winning journalist, editor and podcaster, Marianne began her career as a local newspaper reporter 35 years ago in her home city of Liverpool. She worked for a number of national glossy magazines and was one of the launch team at Grazia UK. Marianne was Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Telegraph’s Stella Magazine and the Saturday Telegraph Magazine, where she was editor of the year three times. She now co-hosts the chart-topping podcast Been There Done That Got the Podcast.