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Seeing Signs Everywhere: One Woman’s Story about Donating her Mother’s Brain

Heidi Long and her family had no idea what was going on. Her mom, Lisa (pictured) was in her mid-forties when she started acting strangely…her behavior was “off;” her personality would suddenly change, and she got confused a lot. Then she started having trouble coordinating things in the one place where she used to be most comfortable – in the kitchen. They wondered whether her diet was out of whack or if menopause had something to do with it. Age-related cognitive issues never crossed their mind.

When she was only 49 years old the official diagnosis came. Dementia. Her speech went early. She couldn’t get her words out, there was lots of stuttering and Heidi says the two of them finally found a way to communicate through their eyes. Lisa had been a healthy person with no real medical issues. Everyone knew her for always, always caring for other people, from young kids to those in nursing homes. Heidi remembers her as always happy and trying to lift people up, sending stacks of greeting cards at a time. Long before “custom confetti” was a thing, Lisa had a hole-punch that made little bitty hearts, and she would put a handful of them in a card to delight the person who opened it.

Heidi feels signs from her mom everywhere.

Her illness was devastating. Despite a loving marriage of 35 years, she no longer wanted her husband around. She didn’t trust him to take care of her. Heidi says her dad was heartbroken. Lisa got progressively worse and died in last December 2022 at the age of 57. 

The family donated her brain because Heidi says Lisa would have wanted to help other people in any way possible. And she and her sister wonder if the same future waits for them.

In the meantime, Heidi feels signs from her mom everywhere. Recently, she passed a random guy on a hike, and he gave her a heart-shaped rock and told her the meaning of life is to spread love everywhere. Then he was gone. Countless little signs of her mom’s favorite things keep popping up – hearts, sunflowers, hints of the beach – so many that Heidi has started keeping a journal of them. And she kept the heart-shaped hole-punch in case she wanted it to rain hearts on someone’s day.

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