I took a photo of my lovely grandmother, Nora, 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.
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.
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
(Image via Shutterstock).