When Akiko DuPont’s grandfather, Jiji, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, his smile progressively disappeared as he shut himself from the world. That’s when Kinako, the cat, entered his life, said DuPont, a freelance photographer based in Tokyo and London. “One day, Jiji wandered into my room and found the cat. His eyes shined with happiness.”
Jiji fought in World War II and trained to become a kamikaze fighter. He was supposed to take flight on Aug. 15, 1945. That day instead, Japan, reeling from two atomic attacks, surrendered. After that, Jiji commuted every day to put bread on the table for his family, back and forth to the office for more than 60 years until he retired. “He was a very organized person and for as long as I can remember he scrapbooked articles in newspapers as his hobby,” DuPont said.
Kinako is a “scaredy-cat,” as DuPont called it: a loving but very shy cat. “He loved interrupting or trying to get Jiji’s attention when he was on his newspaper clipping missions,” she said.
The two quickly developed a symbiotic relationship. “When they were tired, they often napped together, even sleeping in similar poses,” DuPont said. “It was genuinely funny and heartwarming to look at them.”
This connection offered a distraction from Jiji’s slow and ineluctable decline. “Alzheimer’s is a disease that brings sadness and loneliness because of its hollowness,” the photographer said. “We often focus on the difficult times, but in that hollowness there are points of light that are moments of pure joy, however ephemeral they may be. There are special moments that sprinkle down like warm snowflakes, always melting at different rates.”
What DuPont learned from watching Jiji and Kinako is that “change” doesn’t necessarily erase someone.
“You can still find that person in special moments that are created by a warm connection,” she said. “Their memories may evaporate soon and they may at times look as if they are becoming a different person, but they are still someone you love.”
DuPont’s project was a finalist in this year’s Bob and Diane Fund grant.
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