It comes on slowly.
First a lost memory, a lost place, a lost name.
Soon the faces around you are strangers, yet you have the nagging feeling you should know them. They are familiar and kind.
The coin flips, and on the other side are the memory keepers. The sons, daughters, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, grandchildren, and friends who watched you slip away long before your body leaves them.
Who love you until the end, even though you no longer know who they are.
Alzheimer’s is a horrible, awful disease in which our loved ones slip away from us and leave a shell of what they once were. Alzheimer’s is like a monster in a horror movie. Feeding on the memories of their host until they are a likeness of before, yet taken so far away from what they once were.
Right now my paternal grandmother is slipping away. Even though she is physically here, and I can hold her hand and talk with her, she is gone. Because while my grandmother once knew my son and oldest daughter as her great grand children she doesn’t anymore. She doesn’t know I am her granddaughter, or that my siblings and cousins are her grandchildren. She doesn’t remember her own children as much anymore. She met my youngest daughter when she was only a couple months old, and to my grandmother she was just a sweet baby that brought her a moment of joy. She had no idea that baby was her great granddaughter.
It is hard to feel so powerless. It is so hard to watch someone you love fade away. To be left wondering what it is like for those afflicted with this disease. I worry she is scared in her confusion. I worry she feels alone. I pray that she feels our love, and somewhere deep inside remembers, even if she can no longer find the words to tell us. I hope somewhere deep inside she knows we are there. I hope she knows we, these strangers around her, love her.
Death is never easy. My maternal grandfather died in his early 90s and though his body gave out, his mind was there. All of his memories were with him until the end. He remembered it all. Though he suffered greatly, there was a peace in knowing he knew us, and knew we were there. The memories of his smiles because we came to visit, even when he was so very sick will be treasured always. Alzheimer’s slips in so silently you can miss it. Those last words you want to say can get snatched away before you realize it is too late to say them.
Alzheimer’s scares me, almost more than cancer. It is the only cause of death in the top ten, that can not be prevented, cured, or slowed. It is a disease that you can’t truly fathom how horrible it is until you watch someone you love fade away, lost forever while their body lives on. Genetically it is high in the cards for me, and my husband too. Shortly after we got married his grandmother died after a battle with Alzheimer’s. She got to the point she no longer recognized her own reflection in the mirror.
I look at my children and in a flash they are grown. Are they going to have to watch their grandparents slip away? Or someday my husband or me?
More than 5 millions Americans are currently suffering and every 67 seconds someone develops the disease. They are mothers, fathers, grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, sons, daughters, and friends. They are physically and mentally suffering, and it needs to end. We need to fight this. We need to put money and resources into finding better treatment options, to someday hopefully finding a cure. To find something, anything, that slows down the monster inside.
When I smile and tell my grandmother that I love her so very much. I hope even a glimmer of the words seeps through to a place where she knows us still. I hope they find their way in the dark to the person she was before. I pray she has peace in the confusion of her mind.
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain health awareness month. Go here to take the purple pledge to help raise awareness for this devastating disease. Find more information and ways you can help at the Alzheimer’s Association webpage.
Let’s fight to end the sorrow of saying good bye too soon. Of having to care for the shell of the people we loved. Once so strong, but now lost in a maze within their own mind. I wear purple for my grandmother, and hope that someday we can find a way to treat this horrible disease.