My moth­er grew up hear­ing a sto­ry about my great-grand­moth­er that I nev­er believed: a cen­tu­ry ago, in the mid­dle of a Win­nipeg win­ter, my great-grand­moth­er had been nurs­ing her baby on the front porch when a dri­ve-by sniper drove by and shot her dead. The baby at her breast was unharmed.

My moth­er pro­fessed to believe this bubbe­meiseh. I always fig­ured I’d get around to find­ing out the truth some­day. I’m a jour­nal­ist, I thought, cocky; I know how to do research.

But when my moth­er was diag­nosed with demen­tia — what we would lat­er real­ize was Alzheimer’s dis­ease — more than a decade ago, the clock start­ed to tick. Sud­den­ly, I want­ed to find out the truth now. Before my moth­er — the keep­er of our fam­i­ly sto­ries, and a spec­tac­u­lar sto­ry­teller — lost her mem­o­ry. While my moth­er, who was named in mem­o­ry of her slain grand­moth­er, could still under­stand the truth.

Final­ly, I was moti­vat­ed. Final­ly, I start­ed my research.

But it was not as easy as I’d hoped. Facts I thought would present them­selves in a mat­ter of days or weeks of online search­ing turned out to be more elu­sive. Rel­a­tives I hoped might have more answers turned out to be hard to find. And as the research got slow­er, oth­er things got in the way”: my day job as an edi­tor, a nov­el I was writ­ing in my spare time, and what I might sim­ply call my life”: my hus­band, our friends, the things we like to do togeth­er, and the unfor­tu­nate real­i­ty that no mat­ter how I wish it were oth­er­wise, I still need to sleep at least a few hours at least a few nights a week.

I want­ed to find out the truth now. Before my moth­er — the keep­er of our fam­i­ly sto­ries, and a spec­tac­u­lar sto­ry­teller — lost her memory.

And my moth­er. We had always talked on the phone each day; we still did, although the con­ver­sa­tions became more repet­i­tive, more super­fi­cial, and more frus­trat­ing for both of us as her cog­ni­tion declined. I’d try to keep her informed of any small progress I made in my research — I found a news­pa­per clip­ping, I emailed a dis­tant cousin. At first, she was inter­est­ed and want­ed to hear more, but couldn’t remem­ber any­thing I told her. Then she stopped com­pre­hend­ing what I told her in the first place. Then she for­got the leg­end she’d known her whole life, about the dri­ve-by sniper.

Then she for­got who I was.

Then she for­got who she was.

I put my research on hold. For months. Even years. What I might find out about her grandmother’s demise wouldn’t make any dif­fer­ence to her anymore.

Her Alzheimer’s drove me to start search­ing for answers. And then her Alzheimer’s drove me to stop.

I put my research aside, and start­ed focus­ing on her. And I start­ed read­ing books that oth­er peo­ple had writ­ten about their own expe­ri­ences in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions, to see how I might relate — and to see what might lie ahead. I con­nect­ed most often with Jew­ish authors, who had fam­i­lies that mir­rored my own in many ways: Bob Mor­ris’ Bob­by Won­der­ful. Jonathan Silin’s My Father’s Keep­er. And Roz Chast’s graph­ic mem­oir Can’t We Talk About Some­thing More Pleas­ant?—which had me alter­nate­ly laugh­ing and cry­ing the whole time.

Even­tu­al­ly, my moth­er moved into a home, and no longer required fam­i­ly mem­bers to care for her every phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al need. After my long break, I got back to the research. This time, it was for me. Not for my moth­er, who was no longer telling this sto­ry or any sto­ry at all. But in her honor.

Wayne Hoff­man is a vet­er­an jour­nal­ist, pub­lished in The New York Times, Wall Street Jour­nalWash­ing­ton Post, Hadas­sah Mag­a­zineThe For­wardOutThe Advo­cate, and else­where; he is exec­u­tive edi­tor of the online Jew­ish mag­a­zine Tablet. The author of The End of Her: Rac­ing Against Alzheimer’s to Solve a Mur­der, he has also pub­lished three nov­els, includ­ing Sweet Like Sug­ar, which won the Amer­i­can Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award. He lives in New York City and the Catskills.