My grandma was a soft, wonderful woman who would constantly give of herself in order for the people she loved to be happy. The woman who made me liver paste and bought me Spotz’s white bread every time we visited. The woman who would drive an hour and a half to see her granddaughters’ school plays and fifth grade graduation ceremonies. The woman who took her grandchildren to Chuck E Cheese and Discovery Zone because their mom at first couldn’t afford the luxury and then couldn’t stand the affront to the senses.
But starting in 2004 this woman started to disappear. She forgot that her parents were dead and no longer with us. She wandered out of the house in the middle of a chilly night only to be found hours later by the police in a neighbor’s backyard curled up under a tree. She ate her hearing aid. Or she would volunteer a thought in a small, slightly dejected voice, pointing to her daughter, my aunt, and called her “that nice woman I live with.”
My grandma suffered from Alzheimer’s for the last years of her life. It was a long time for her and the rest of our family to suffer.
The changes are easy to note: My grandma who beamed at my 6th grade production of Peter Pan was clearly different from my grandma who stands next to me in the picture from my college graduation. The vibrancy is gone.
We all loved my grandma to the utmost. She was the nicest person any of us had ever known and not a single person can remember her saying a bad thing about anyone. But no matter how much you love someone, caring for them as they slip away (mentally, physically, or both) is difficult.
We were fortunate to have my aunt who is a nurse, and the ability to hire outside help. But it was not an easy couple of years. I spent the last year out-of-state at graduate school and wishing I could be closer to help but simultaneously a little relieved (and then remorseful) to be out of the picture. It was painful to hear about the decline from states away; I didn’t know how my mom and aunt were coping.
So next weekend I will be walking in our local Walk To End Alzheimer’s event. While walking her I will remember my grandma as the kind, vibrant woman who always had time for our family.
I walked last year and have taken a more active role this year – encouraging students to participate and creating an Alzheimer’s display in the library. Because this disease can (and probably will) affect every one of us at some point and its a terrible thing to experience.
For more information:
The Alzheimer’s Association: Find information for patients, for caregivers, and statistics.
Dementia: A Practical Guide by Marc E. Agronin.