Please Don't Forget Me Sarah Neal

(Well, I’ve only started with the feature image/title and I’m verklempt. Please bear with me…)

This is a photo of my lovely grandmother, Nora. I took this photo of her when she was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease because I knew the time was quickly approaching when she would no longer be photographed. She was a beautiful and proud woman who wouldn’t want to be captured in her broken and fragile state.

So, I want to tell you a little bit about the real her. She loved Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream, gospel music, rhinestone jewelry, permed hair, animal print and big sunglasses. She hated rainy days, but relished summer nights when she’d often open the windows and listen to her collection of jazz records while the warm breeze blew in. She danced, laughed, raised a family and yes, later in life, had Alzheimer’s. More accurately, the disease had her. But I won’t allow it to have the memories of her. I’ve rummaged through piles of them and set aside only the good ones – the ones before the disease transformed her from my feisty, vivacious Gram into a shell of her former self.

1940s movie-star-drop-dead beautiful

Many of you have been directly affected by this cruel and unrelenting disease. I wish I could hug each one of you, because you know how heartbreaking it can be to watch a loved one disappear under the heavy waves of dementia. There were moments, even in the later stages of the disease, when I would catch of glimpse of her– the real her, as if she had taken her sleeve and rubbed out a small patch on a foggy window to peek through. I’ve cherish every one of those fleeting moments.

Alzheimer’s disease isn’t just about being forgetful. If it was, I would be really concerned about myself because I forget things ALL THE TIME. I blame this solely on being a “creative soul,” or as I call it, “Coo coo ca choo.” In practical terms, it affects the connections of neurons in the brain and prevents them from communicating effectively with each other. Over time, the amount of disconnections increase. This often leads to the loss of being able to remember simple details, to walk, sit, speak, eat, laugh, hug or smile. It’s not just about forgetting – it’s a loss of functioning. There is no cure and tragically, more than 5 million people in America suffer from this debilitating disease.

One thing Alzheimer’s disease will never destroy is the human spirit. If you know someone who is suffering, a simple “I love you” or a hug can communicate volumes, even though they may not be able to respond.

“Please don’t forget me.”

That’s something my Gram told me in one of those rare moments of clarity. I knew what she meant. “Please don’t forget ME…not this version – sick, angry and confused. Remember me, the one who taught you to sew, watched you ride your bike for the first time, taught you to make the best pies and hemmed all your dress sleeves when you were a kid because of your short, munchkin arms… remember me.”

No, I will not forget my Gram. If there is one ounce of positive I can glean from her battle with Alzheimer’s disease, it’s this: she taught my family to be stronger, braver, more resilient, to love harder and forgive quicker. But most importantly…


If you would like to find more resources about Alzheimer’s go to, alz.org. Additionally, if you are a caring for someone with the disease, or know someone who is, I highly recommend the book, The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for Persons with Alzheimer’s Disease, Related Dementing Illnesses, and Memory Loss in Later Life.
Until next time, Gigglers. xox

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  1. This brought me to teeeeears!! I lost both of my grandmothers (one had Alzheimer’s) and it’s such a tough loss and really guts you. Just like vina said, they live on through their memories and we celebrate their lives when we remember each little gem that made them them…hugs to all of you who love your grandmas <3

  2. It has been 9 months, 2 weeks, and 6 days since December 8, 2011. That morning I was sitting in class and at exactly 8:40 am… my heart skipped a beat, and I knew then that she was gone forever. After the funeral and goodbyes I couldn’t let go of my grandmother. I just couldn’t. For how could one ever forget a part of themself? The house seems empty and quiet, but inside my heart is clinging on to everything about her, like gasping for air. Each and everyday gets easier, but at the same time I am more and more afraid of forgetting the sound of her voice, her hand stroking my hair when I’m having a bad day… I’m afraid of losing her forever. Photographs will never replicate the way the wrinkles around her eyes smiled. The only thing I hear her voice in is her words: “Eat well, be happy, and grow up to be old. Now put on your shoes and go outside.”
    In this she lives, and so I will too.

  3. Powerful article, Sarah – I am tearing up at work! As I get older, I have realized I need to cherish my grandparents even more because they will not be around for much longer. I will go and visit them this weekend and hug them even tighter because of this, thank you for sharing your story.

  4. Thanks for that, Sarah. I know it’s not the same, but my beloved grandfather had a stroke two weeks ago, and whilst he is doing very well, he can’t communicate as concisely as he could. To see someone you love change literally overnight is hard, but harder is knowing how frustrated he feels himself. I haven’t had personal experience with Alzheimers yet, but the things you said about your grandmother echo my feelings for my own maternal grandparents. We are so lucky to have had grandparents we adore so much (and whom adore us!). Many are not so lucky. That is what we need to hold on to. All the best x

    • Amy, I’m so sorry to hear about your grandfather’s stroke. I’m glad he’s recovering. Even though our grandparents’ illnesses are different, the effects and heartbreak are the same. p.s.: I LOVE what you said about grandparents. So true!!

  5. Thanks for sharing. My family and I are currently going through the “forget everyone” phase with my grandpa. Its a hard thing to go through, by what helps me is that I will always have the memories of my lively rarely forgetful grandfather. Sometimes it seems that as I get older I start to remember more and more of the times I had with him.

    • Yes! Hold on to those great memories, Nicole. They help pull you through the tough times. Thank you for sharing your story with me.

  6. I think the title of this is so fitting, because the hardest part of my Grandfather’s Alzheimers, for me at least, is that one day he’ll forget me. I’m dreading the day when I walk into the room and see that he doesn’t know who I am. We’re very close, and when he has a bad day, the stories he repeats over and over all have to do with time we’ve shared together. It breaks my heart to know that one day, instead of telling me about him and I, he’ll tell me about him and his granddaughter.

    • Oh, Melanie. Your comment brought me to tears. I totally understand where you’re coming from. My Gram forgot my name, but always knew there was a connection between us. Love is stronger than the disease! Much love to you and yours…

  7. Not sure if this made me giggle as much… But it did make me cry a little inside, but smile at the same time. Many people take their grandparents for granted because they have been part of their lives for so long that they kind of have an immortality about them… Unfortunately they do leave us, but I am so glad they never really LEAVE us. Wonderful article a Sarah! Cheers.

  8. This is a very touching story. Thanks for sharing. It was a nice tribute to a woman I’m sure was amazing.

  9. Such a well-written and touching article, you had me teary-eyed.

  10. I really loved your article, and of course, it made me cry thinking about my Grandma and all of the “grandma” things she loved to do. Both my Grandma and one of her brothers died from Alzheimer’s, and now my dad (her son) is suffering with it as well. He has early onset Alzheimer’s, which is cutting his life so much shorter than I’m sure it was meant to be. The frustrating thing about the disease is that there is just no way to fight it. No treatment. No cure. Even more frustrating for me is the potential for my daughters and I to get the disease with no sure way to prevent the train that is barreling down the tracks. Sometimes, it seems so random, and other times, it seems so deliberate. Is it hereditary? No one is certain. For me, forgetting even for a moment where my keys or not being able to recall a simple word brings me to thoughts of my Grandma, my uncle, and my dad. Your article made me cry, but it was a good cry. It reminded me to not dwell so much on what the disease is doing to my dad, but who he was and still is in spite of Alzheimer’s. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Heidi, for sharing your story with me. Several of my Gram’s siblings also passed away from complications associated with Alzheimer’s. It does seem to be hereditary, which makes me hate the disease even more. And you’re right, there is no rhyme or reason to its pattern. I’m sorry your father is having to deal with this disease. Stay strong, but take time to take care of YOU. It’s easy to get lost in the caretaker role, but it’s just as important to take care of yourself. (((hugs)))

  11. My grandmother also is in the throws of Alzheimer’s right now. I am constantly saddened when I cannot remember who she was before the disease–it has been a part of our lives for the past five or six years. Writing and sharing about her is a wonderful way to remember her. Thank you for posting and inspiring me through sharing!

    • *throes…I only sometimes succeed at spelling.

      • Hi, Annie! First, I’m so sorry your grandma is suffering. Mine battled for over 13 years. It’s important to take notes to help remember the good moments during this difficult time. It might be as simple as, “Today, she smiled when I told a joke…” You know how quickly the state of their lucidity can change, so please, please hold onto the good moments to help you get through the bad ones. She’s still there, buried under the horrible disease. Hugs to you, dear Annie.

  12. Both my grandmother and my aunt Phronie died of Alzheimer’s Disease, and they were two of the strongest, most beautiful and best women I will ever know. It is such a hard disease because it’s like losing them before you really do, and for me there was never a sense of closure. Thank you for your thoughtful article. I miss and think about them every day.

    • Thank you for mentioning the lack of closure, Kelsey. I think it’s one of the most heartbreaking aspects of the disease. I’m so sorry your grandmother and her sister had to suffer. ((Hugs))

  13. This was so well written. You really explained it perfectly. Watching a loved one go through this is absolutely heart wrenching, and it it important to remember that they are more than their disease. So far everything of yours that I’ve read has just moved me to tears, first the adoption series which was so beautiful, and now this.

  14. This made me tear up at work. Thank you for sharing, Sarah.

    Kerry Winfrey | 8/29/2012 04:08 am
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