Nobody likes the thought of dying, especially if at the end of that journey you’re not going to know who you are. Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects millions; and in my case, two family members already.
Alzheimer’s disease is something rarely talked about. There are not many people who are open to talking about the trials and tribulations of what really happens along the way. Like the beginning of the disease, ‘Where did I put my keys?’ or ‘I forgot it Saturday not Sunday’. Many people just make a joke about it simply because ‘It could never happen to me’. They think that it only happens to other people. But people need to open their eyes and start accepting the fact that it could happen to anybody of any race and any age.
The first experience I ever had with the dreaded disease, I was about 23 and I just became engaged. Since I never knew my real father and raised by my grandparents, it was only fitting that my grandfather be the one to walk me down the aisle. I thought I was the luckiest woman in the world because not many women got the chance to have their grandfathers walk them down the aisle.
There were moments leading up to the wedding that I would question that something was wrong. But being so close to grandpa and being the only child that a part of me pushed it off to the side and ignored it because I didn’t want to admit that MY grandfather was eventually going to die.
Along the way I noticed little changes in grandpa. He would become more argumentative; in every sense of the word. We would hear ‘I never said that’ or ‘No I didn’t’. For years the progression went on until it came to the point where he forgot how to walk, talk, and smoke. He basically forgot how to do everything that a normal person knows how to do.
Eventually it all came to a head in the month of December 1999. We all knew that this was the last month we would have with him. We just didn’t know exactly what day. So we all as a family (mom, my uncles, my husband and I) decided to celebrate Christmas a week early because we didn’t think he would make it that far. Right before dinner Father Tim had showed up and with everybody around the table (including grandpa in his wheelchair) Father Tim administered Last Rites. At that moment, without any provocation, grandpa opened his eyes looked up to the sky and said, “Not yet. I’m not ready”. And that was the last thing that grandpa ever spoke.
A week later, the day that he passed, we had all gathered and met with a lady from Hospice to get papers signed and questions answered. Afterwards there was an eerie calm that came about, one that nobody could ever explain. I helped my uncle’s girlfriend get grandpa in to his wheelchair and at the table. We knew it would be futile (considering he stopped eating three weeks prior) but we thought we should try to get him to eat something.
That evening, grandpa ate everything that was put in front of him. It was then that I knew I would never see him again. About an hour after he ate, his breathing slowed, his eyes closed and he finally went to that peaceful place we all should be so lucky to end up at. Grandpa passed away December 29, 1999. He never made it to the turn of the century but of course he knew it all along.
Alzheimer’s is a nasty disease that I wouldn’t wish on anybody. But unfortunately, I have to deal with another chapter of that disease that was written for me; my mother. She was diagnosed roughly two years ago. Just when I thought all of my wounds were healed from that nightmare, they got ripped open all over again. All I could do is pray for help, one day at a time.