|(Alzheimer's Awareness Stamp, US Postal Service)|
I just got home from spending a week in Ohio with my family. I had the opportunity to watch my Yia Yia blow out the candles on her 88th birthday cake. I had the privilege of sitting down with my 91 year old Papou and listen to his wise thoughts on our crazy world. I had the special chance of squeezing my 87 year old Grandmother gently, for an extra long time. I don't know how much longer I have them and I know how precious time is. I know how fortunate I am that I have had them for this long in my life - not only healthy and happy -but with their sharp minds and memories still in tact.
The last night I was home, I went to a 40th birthday bash for some of my closest friends. Since we are all scattered around, we decided on one date to celebrate everyone's milestone. I had a long chat with an old friend and remembered old times like they were yesterday. She told me all about her mother, and how she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's ten years ago in her 50s. (My friend was only 30). I can't imagine, watching her mother, so young, so full of life, disappear before her eyes. She did not understand that her daughter got married, that she had children, and made a life of her own. She'll never scoop up her grandchildren and spoil them with kisses and hugs. It is one of the cruelest diseases that robs people of their lives, their dignity, and so much more. I had seen this for years during my time I worked with them in the Nursing Homes. So many families are left to wonder if they are now strangers, or if, by some miracle, their loved ones really do know they are there.
As I spoke to my friend, I remembered all of the stories that loved ones had told me about their family members before they ended up in the Nursing Home. The close calls, the near tragic accidents, the final straws that landed them in a locked, safe unit at a home permanently. I recall the gradual reversal of adulthood back to just basic survival. It is devastating. But the one thing I always believed, was that deep down, they were there - and they knew when their family was there too.
There are three women that I remember clear as day from my nursing home days. One of them, a brilliant professor in her prime, had a bandage over her eye one morning when I went to visit her. I asked her what happened to her eye. She said, "he did it." I panicked. I thought oh no, not someone that works here, not a random visitor..my mind started running. "Who did it?" I asked her gently. "That man. Al. His name is Al Heimer's...he comes into my room at night and does horrible awful things to me. He hurts me. He makes me fall." I had been recording our sessions for research I was doing for a paper in college. I must have played that back 100 times. She had personified the illness in her mind and this is how she described it. A monster. And it is just that. Another dear woman would tell me every single day that she was new to the home and that someone, she didn't know who, took her in the middle of the night from her bed, and she ended up there. To live that horror, every single day, over and over was heartbreaking to me. I tried every day to sit with her, to make her smile, to ease her pain - and every day I managed to do so, only to go back at the same time every day to her furrowed brow and worried face and go through it all over again.
One of my most wonderful - and reassuring thoughts on Alzheimer's was because of a little woman in her housecoat named Ethel. How I loved Ethel - she walked up and down the hallways daily, 'tending to her garden', gathering cucumbers for pickling, singing and smiling. Every day she'd point out the flowers in her garden, even though all I ever saw were checkers on a table in the rec room. For her mind to have the ability to rescue her and take her back to her favorite pastime every single day was a gift. It made me think that our defense mechanisms were strong enough to swoop down and help us survive even the most awful affliction.
I wrote this poem for my friend's mom, Mrs. C, and the countless others like her. She is one of the kindest, most gentle, happy, loving mothers I know. She was dealt a bad hand - and was taken away and all that was left was a frail, yet beautiful shell of a woman. I hope that anyone afflicted, or who has someone who is suffering with this can find peace. But I have even bigger hopes that we can find a cure.
Remember, Mom..when you told me not to jump on my bed because I might fall off and get hurt?
And I did it anyways..and got hurt.
You fixed me right up, with love and patience and never said "I told you so," even though you did.
Remember, Mom..when I kept striking out in Little League?
You told me to keep practicing and trying my best. And I did.
When I hit it out of the park, your voice was the loudest, proudest of them all
and you believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself.
Remember, Mom..when you told me not to throw the football in the house?
And I did it anyways and broke your favorite lamp.
Instead of yelling at me, you let me help you put it back together with Super Glue and a lot of love.
I thought I was in trouble, but you spoke volumes by saying nothing at all.
Remember, Mom..when you told me not to go to that party but I went anyways.
I was in over my head and I called you to come and get me.
And you did.
I thought you would ground me forever..but you only grounded me for a few days.
You were right, but you never said so. You let me learn the hard way.
And I did.
Remember, Mom..when I said I couldn't wait to be an adult so that I could make my own decisions?
You told me not to be in such a hurry and to enjoy being young.
And I grew up. And it was hard.
Making adult decisions wasn't always fun, or easy.
Remember, Mom...when I found you walking aimlessly in the neighborhood, lost and confused?
You thought I'd be upset. And I was.
But not at you. At the disease.
And I still am.
Remember, Mom..when I finally had to take you to the Nursing Home to keep you safe?
I thought you'd be mad at me. But you weren't.
You didn't even know who I was.
But you smiled at me, and gave me a soft tap on the knee.
Remember, Mom? All those times you were there for me? You loved me no matter what?
I'm right here, mom.
And I love you no matter what.