Friday, August 28, 2009

Alzheimer's stole my grandma

Grandma lived by herself since before I was born – Grandpa passed away a few years before. I saw Grandma once a year when she flew down to Florida for Christmas or when my parents stuck my two sisters and me in our avocado green van and trucked up to Indiana to play in the snow. Grandma always had a big ceramic jar of chocolate chip cookies to spoil our dinner with.

When I was about twelve, Mom and I started flying up to see Grandma during the summer. We would spend a week making sure everything around the house was okay and just spent some quality time with my only grandmother. We'd visit my cousins and great aunts and uncles (both of my parents are only children). Pop, Dad's dad, would come over for spaghetti and then we'd sit on the porch while he smoked his pipe and told us stories. One year we painted the front porch so Grandma wouldn't try to do it herself – she was in her 80's. We'd walk to the grocery store and church just how Grandma did when we weren't there. We'd fill her in on what the rest of the family had been up to and hear her tell stories about when she was growing up. I loved to hear Grandma tell about driving her sisters and brothers around in a buggy – she was born in 1901.

I was fifteen the last year we flew to Indiana. On the fourth or fifth day Mom and I noticed that Grandma kept
telling us the same stories over and over. This was before Alzheimer's was as well known as it is now. We met a woman who was helping care for one of Grandma's elderly neighbors. Zelda was a pleasant woman and offered to check on Grandma for us. We left feeling a bit apprehensive but relieved to have someone looking in on her.

Several months later on Easter weekend, my mom got a call from Grandma's youngest sister, Aunt Mim. Grandma called Aunt Mim to tell her she was transferring all her money into an account for Zelda. My mom and dad dropped me off at my sister and brother's-in-law
apartment in Orlando and were on the next plane to Indiana to bring Grandma to live with us.

Shortly after, Grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. We tried to care for her at home but eventually she needed to be moved into a nursing home. Mom visited her almost every day and she hated when meetings would prevent her from going. The nursing home was minutes from my high school so I went as often as I could between work, the dance team, and homework.

One of the
last times I saw Grandma I went with a guy I'd been dating for a while. Jimmy and I walked in and I said, "Hi, Grandma!" She looked at me and asked, "Who are you?" I told her, "It's your granddaughter." "Oh, yes," she replied. We chatted for a little while and then she looked at me and asked again, "Who are you?" I gave Grandma a hug and kiss then mumbled to Jimmy, "I have to get out of here." I ran out with tears streaming down my face.

The last time I saw Grandma alive she was in the hospital. She looked so beautiful and peaceful sleeping in the bed. The next morning, just before my high school graduation, Mom came into my room to wake me up for school and told me Grandma passed away a few hours earlier. I cried for a while, got dressed, grabbed my backpack and drove to school. My friends all thought I should be at home but I knew that would leave too much time for me to think about how devastated I was.

I tried very hard to stay composed at Grandma's viewing. It was my first time seeing an open casket. Grandma never wore makeup. She used Noxzema every day and had beautiful skin. To see her lying there with all that makeup on her, so still and lifeless was more than I could take. My cousins tried to talk to me, console me, but they still had their grandma. Mine was gone.

That was eighteen years ago. It still makes me sad to think of Grandma looking at me and not knowing who I was. It still hurts that my only grandma is gone. But, Grandma is in a better place. She's with her brothers and sisters. She's with Grandpa and her only grandson, Brian. She has her memory back. She knows that Mom is her daughter and not Aunt Mim. She knows who my Dad is. She knows who my sisters are. She knows who I am.

Alzheimer's stole my grandma for several years but she's okay now. Her mind is whole again. And she remembers everything.

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