I want to tell you about my grandfather today because this month is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. Alzheimer’s is a fatal disease that has taken three close relatives. This is sponsored content written by me in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association. All opinions are my own.
How can I describe my grandpa before Alzheimer’s stole him?
To me, he was Santa and the President rolled into one.
I had fond memories of visiting my grandparents in a magical high-rise in Washington, DC. They lived on the 18th floor overlooking the world through walls of windows. It seemed like visiting the moon to my suburban mind.
There were no traditional toys at his house, but the cupboards held gadgets that were so much better. There was a wind-up butterfly, a small tire with handles, an inversion table, and one of those machines that you would stand with a strap around your waist and it would make you jiggle.
His office was in a big building in the city. He sat behind a massive wooden desk and had neat piles of very important things that shouldn’t be touched. When we visited, we would be introduced to 100s of people who would shake our hands and say nice things about our grandfather.
But what I remember most in those early days was sitting on his lap and laughing. He had several rhymes that were our tradition – they started as “pony rides” and progressed to things we would recite together with giggles.
He was the one who drove the boat when I learned to waterski. He took me hunting for the first (and last) time. And every time he visited, he had something in his pocket for me.
He was my grandpa.
As I grew older, I started to realize that he was also one of the greatest minds of the time. Professionally, he had reached the highest level possible. His massive wooden desk was because he was Chairman of the Board of Higher Education of the second-largest Christian school system in the world.
And he had a James Earl Jones voice. Distinctive, distinguished and deep that you could listen to for hours. On several occasions, I would be watching a documentary at school/church or listening to the radio and hear HIS booming voice.
Grandpa was a sharp dresser. Usually in suits with a contrasting vest or tie. I remember him always wearing purple. Even after he retired, he would still be dressed in pinstripe pants and a sweater or vest. His wingtip shoes were always a shiny black.
I don’t think anyone in the family can pinpoint the exact start of the decline, but grandma started noticing what she called “funny things”. For instance, he filled the gas tank with water one day without giving it a second thought. But that was just a precursor. “Funny things” became less humorous and more devastating.*
Eventually, my grandfather’s body was present, but everything that we knew about him was gone.
Years later, he became too difficult for my grandmother to care for by herself so they moved in with my parents. There were times when his actions were along the same mindset of my then two-year old child. The disagreements, rationale and decision-making ability had regressed, but an 80+ year old body can’t be picked up and relocated like a two-year old can.
After a few more years, it became impossible to keep him safe (or clean) at home and we reluctantly moved him into a nursing home.
Alzheimer’s took the last laugh, last smile, last rational thought, and then his last breath. As I sat with him in a dark hospital room minutes before the actual end, it was with a prayer of thanks. We had lost him years before, yet his body remained. The hand I held was a terrible imposter of the one that had lifted me as a child.
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is a 24/7 job that cannot be tackled alone. It is an enormous task that is being tackled by more than 15 million caregivers, friends and family. The Alzheimer’s Association has comprehensive online resources and information. The helpline is open 24/7 – 1-800-272-3900.
*Experts from the Alzheimer’s Association have developed 10 Key Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s disease that can help you recognize the symptoms earlier than we did.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Alzheimer’s Association. The opinions and text are all mine.