Living with Alzheimer’s
Every moment in life is a journey. Even the smallest moments are stored and cataloged away in our brains as memories only to pop up randomly at any given time. When this phenomenon happens sometimes we burst out loud laughing causing others around us to second guess our sanity. Other times we are taken back by the small lump put in our throat that causes us to sigh.
And then there are the times when we are reduced down to tears. What causes this to happen? Was it a song we heard on the radio or the one a random stranger was whistling as we passed by each other? Or was it the smell of that persons’ cologne or perfume? Maybe it was the way their hair was styled or the clothes they were wearing? I’m not sure why we are wired this way, but I believe it is our subconscious trying desperately to remind us as to whom we are and where we come from. Is it a self guidance system designed to help us make better informed decisions based on past experiences, be it good or bad? Or is it just our brains trying to self adjust and find balance?
Have you ever gone for a drive and when you arrive at your destination you have no recollection of the ride there? It happens to me a lot – scary I know, especially when I can’t recall what I was thinking about that put me in a trance in the first place. Now try to imagine what that is like for someone living with Alzheimer’s. Parts of their entire lives are like that car ride with no recollection of how they got from point A to point B. It sounds heart wrenching and sometimes it is.
It was my dear friend Lisa’s love and compassion for her Gram that inspired me to take care of my grandfather last year.
He is 92 and living with Alzheimer’s. Over the course of my care for him I have learned so much about him. He tells me stories in his thick European accent, like how he left home at the age of 17 never to return again until he was in his 60s because of the war.
He says his father told him “son you go west and you see how the people live” at that point Dido (pronounced Gee-Dough, Ukrainian for grandfather) knocks on wood, or anything near by him resembling wood and says “Tanks God I am here, now I see you guys” with the biggest smile on his face.
He tells of how he went to Germany and worked on a farm with a team of horses, one black and one a bay with white socks. He loved those horses and he remembers it like yesterday the day they were taken from the farm by soldiers to become part of the war.
Just like the movie Warhorse, it happened to my grandfather, only he was never reunited with his horse.
He recalls how he and my grandma came to America with my mother (then 2 years old) to make a better life for themselves and how his best friend and his wife and kids went to Australia.
They remained best friends for over 65 years through cards, letters and occasional phone calls. Only once in 65 years did they actually get to see each other again when my grandparents went to Australia for a month after they both retired.
He also recalls that he retired from Allis-Charmers after 33 years. He worked as a machinist only after starting out sweeping floors for 22 cents an hour.
He also told me of how he met President Eisenhower, before he was president and how my grandma was forced to stand in line and shake Hitler’s hand because he was inspecting a factory she worked at in Germany.
He said it took everything in her power not to spit in his face, for if she had she would have surely been shot right there. My grandpa remembers all these things with precision detail yet he can’t remember my name most times or who his daughter, my mother, is.
Basic skills have sometimes become a challenge.
It’s hard and sometimes even devastating to see him, having been such a strong independent man, look so frail and confused sometimes. With his sad memories though he remembers many that make him laugh out loud for no apparent reason.
Sometimes he’ll share them with me and other times he keeps them to himself. There’s a line form the movie Nemo that goes “find a happy place, find a happy place, find a happy place” and I think with Alzheimer’s sometimes that is exactly where their mind goes, is to that happy place. Memories that bring back, for them, a place and time when they were truly happy. Even if there are some sad memories it helps them remember who they were and where they came from.
On Dec. 21 Dido came to celebrate Christmas with us and the rest of the family. He is now living at my mothers’ house and both she and I care for him again.
As my grandparents did, so many folks have immigrated to this country making America what it is today, a giant melting pot of cultures and religions. Many of these cultures and beliefs have been joined together through love and formation of relationships and partnerships.
I think it is necessary for our survival as people to understand and respect each of our beings for our differences and diversities.
Though my full understanding of all religions is limited, it appears to me that the core value in each is to love.
At times it seems that message is lost on each other and we become focused on thinking we have the right to tell others how and what to believe. If only we stuck with the simplest of teachings, to just love and respect and be kind to each other and our planet that provides for us, imagine what great things we could accomplish.
Instead of killing and destroying each other through war in the name of religion we could feed, cloth and educate each other. We may never be able to end poverty on a monetary level for greed is a whole other beast, but we do have the ability to make sure that no one is without food.
Every moment in life is a journey, and I couldn’t be more thankful for mine. Thank you Lisa and Gram for giving me the strength. Keep the faith and keep smiling one day at a time.