With the turn of the month upon us, everywhere we look we see reminders to #gopurple and #ENDALZ. For some this is a noble cause to get behind because someone they know. Others have known someone who had a relative or friend suffer from this incurable disease. For me personally it is so much more. Alzheimer’s: a disease of the mind; a disease that causes more pain and suffering to those around the person, than to the actual sufferer; hell on earth.
I loved my Nana more than was humanly possible. Everyone in my family used to tease us, saying I was by far her “favorite granddaughter.” That was certainly not hard believe, considering we lived right next door to her growing up. After school hours and nearly every long summer day was spent with Nana. I fondly recall day after day of swimming for hours until Nana coaxed me out of her pool with the promise of Ice Cream Sundaes. We would sit there, heartily enjoying her famous creation, while watching episodes of I Love Lucy, The Nanny, or The Golden Girls. Many summer nights and weekends were dedicated to sleepovers. What child remembers begging their parents to have another sleepover at Nana’s, or “just one more night, please?!” I do.
My Nana and I were so incredibly close. She was a second mother to me (without the discipline factor of course). She taught me to balance on the swing set, sew, knit, and crochet. She instilled in me the love for classics like the aforementioned I Love Lucy episodes, and Judy Garland, as well as the odd enjoyment of British comedy, such as Mr. Bean. She pretended each and every time to eat my sand box “pies” and applauded my Shania Twain performances in the living room. As I grew older, she was there for every concert, softball game, and graduation. She beamed with (grand)maternal pride. I beamed too. I loved hearing how proud she was of me, of everything I accomplished. Half of my motivation came from making her proud of me. It still does.
As I got older, the dynamic of our relationship began to change. I became more immersed in school, sports, extracurricular’ s, and work. I did not have as much time for hours of pool play, sleepovers (we still snuck them in when we could), or sand box pies. Then, as time passed on, we started to notice changes in her memory. She began mixing up names, altering stories she told a million and one times. We explained it away as a side effect of getting older. But the older she got, the worse the symptoms became. Then one day the doctor diagnosed it. Alzheimer’s. Luckily, her form was a bit of a slower progressing one. We still managed it for quite a few years with different medicines, but eventually even those did not work. She was slipping away, faster. She would begin a sentence and forget what she was saying half way through. Some days she would laugh it off. Other days, she would get frustrated. Like all of use, she had good days and bad days. Unfortunately her bad days became more and more frequent. We were losing her. I was losing her. This woman who taught me so much in life. This woman who enjoyed tell the same anecdotes over and over. This woman who had a contagious laugh that would brighten a room, was not laughing anymore. Eventually, after fracturing her hip, she ended up in a nursing home that took wonderful care of her for some time. Then one day in February, we took the final trip to visit her. My father had gotten “the call.” You know, the one that basically says she doesn’t have much time left, try and come soon to say your goodbyes. The call we had all been waiting for, holding our breath over for quite some time. We went. We said goodbye. We cried. We left.
I left there beside myself. I wanted to crawl under a rock-still do some days. The woman I had just said goodbye had been gone for a long time. She didn’t know who we were anymore. She didn’t know who she was. She had lost most of her abilities at that point. She didn’t talk, didn’t move. She was a seemingly empty shell. I said goodbye to my Nana that day, but really, I said goodbye to her a long time before. That, my friends, is Alzheimer’s. This is not a disease that cause immense pain and suffering to the victim, but rather to the family and friends. For years, we watched on, helpless. In the end, we said goodbye to a person who left us some time before.
I did not have my Nana there to watch me get married, something I always thought would happen. She was not there to enjoy the morning pampering with my mother and bridesmaids. I wasn’t lucky enough to get the “three generations” pictures. I will never be able to hang framed pictures of the family with her at the center. Perhaps that is why, almost 2 years later, I still have yet to order my wedding album or prints. It hurts. I think it will always hurt. What makes it hurt a little less is knowing that when I walked down the aisle that day, I had a little piece of her with me. Every day, I wear a silver bracelet that was hers. I wore it that day too. I never knew much of what I wanted when it came to planning my wedding. One thing I was certain of, though? I was going to wear that bracelet. Each day I look down at my wrist. Whether I am happy, sad, discouraged, or feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders and I want to give up. I look down and remember her. I look down and remind myself that I will keep living, keep fighting, keep loving, because that is the example she set for me.
“‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Rev 21:4