This post is going to be one of, if not the hardest post I’ve written. It’s one thing that most people don’t know about me.
Unless you have lived with or known someone with Alzheimer’s, you don’t know what it is like. I’ve spent literally half my life being around ones I love with the disease. You see, it doesn’t just effect those with the disease but everyone around them as well. It’s hard to put into words what it is like to watch those you love leave you mentally and physically.
I don’t think I remember my great-grandmother without dementia. For as long as I can remember she had the disease and it was just a way of life for me. When I was really little, she wasn’t bad with the disease and could function and be left alone for a few hours. As time went on, she slowly got worse. I don’t remember the day that my grandparents’ had to take away her driver’s license. I do remember that she always had a book (a juicy romance novel) in her hands and she slowly began to read less and less until she was unable to see the words on the pages. All of her books went to my mom.
Grandma Mert became a woman I didn’t recognize and it took me a long time to realize that it wasn’t her but the effects of Alzheimer’s. There is a stage that people with the disease go through. We call it a violent stage. The first time that Mert threw her dinner back at my grandma frightened me and I left the room in tears. I was a teenager and didn’t understand. All of my friends were understanding and it never bothered them when I had my parties at Ma and Pa’s house.
After school I would go to what I called the Day Care Center to meet up with my mom. All of the people in there with Alzheimer’s became part of our family. It was a place where the caretakers, like Ma, could drop off their loved ones so they could go and do chores and run around town without having to worry about them. All of the people in that center seemed to brighten up a bit when they saw us children and we made sure to make they had fun. My brother and I would have wheelchair races with them and crack jokes. It became a rare sight for Mert to smile and we treasured every smile she ever gave us.
See when someone has to become a caretaker for someone with a disease, what ever that disease may be, people stop coming to visit. Friends and even some family just don’t know what to say or how act around the people because they don’t know how to see past the disease and see the person that is still there inside. I’ve lived so long being around two people that I love and care about very much that have the disease. It has become second nature to me. You just learn to ignore the fact that your great-grandmother and grandfather are incapable of taking care of themselves and it’s our turn to return the favor from when they took years to care for us.
Mert passed away in June of 2006. I remember the phone call at about ten o’clock at night. I immediately called my best friend. The next day I had to call work to take a bereavement leave for a few days. I cried for about a week.
I don’t know how Ma has stayed strong through out all these years watching her mother and then her husband live with Alzheimer’s. I have a hard time talking or writing about Mert or Pa without crying (like I am now).
I wrote a little about Pa last night. He was my fishing buddy and one of my best-friends. He was so proud of me when I joined Auto Shop my junior year in high school and even more so when I decided to rebuild the engine of my 1969 Thunderbird that Ma and Pa gave me for my 17th birthday. We had so much in common.
Both my dad’s parents died when I was really little. Grandpa Gerald died shortly after my first birthday and Granna died when I was three. My whole life I’ve only known two grandparents. Pa has faded from us faster than Mert did. We’re pretty sure that it is because Pa has suffered from quite a few concussions in his life. Any sort of brain damage doesn’t fully heal. The one thing that I hate is that Pa will never know his great-grandchildren. He won’t remember my wedding (if and when that ever happens). Pa doesn’t remember much of anything right now. We are grateful that he does recognize us even if he can’t call us by name. At the family BBQ, my dad said hi to Pa and got “God dammit” as a response. We all laughed of course.
The best memory that I have with Pa while having Alzheimer’s was when we went to Rossi’s, a restaurant in Big Pine owned by Pa’s cousin, for my 27th birthday. Ma asked him if he needed to go to the bathroom and went he stood up, he let out the loudest fart. Ma and Mommy were mortified while the rest of us just started laughing hysterically. I think that was the last time Pa came to a restaurant with us.
I think having to deal with this disease has made my family stronger. We are effected in one way or another but in the end we are all family. When Mert passed I met a cousin for the first time in my life. Instead of having a funeral, we had a family reunion to remember her just like we did when her youngest son passed a few years prior. As hard as it to see people you love fade away from you, I love them just as much.