I’m thinking about my grandmother these days because I’m raising money for those (and those that love them) that are coping with memory loss. Also, even though they were only related by marriage and never really cared for each other, my Uncle Dick passed away this week.
I will probably write further blog posts about my grandmother, because there is so much to discuss. She was a truly unique individual. Admirable for raising three kids by herself, hilarious for her sense of humor, frustrating for her manipulative ways, my grandmother was truly a complex individual. I’m not sure I really appreciated her until she was long gone. It takes a fair amount of reflection to really appreciate someone of her caliber.
The stories about my grandmother are legendary. Sitting around at family gatherings, the tales inevitably come back to her, with a great deal of laughter. At Christmas, we told the tale of the yellow Chevette, for example. She bought the car when she moved in SC in 1975 (I think) and it remained her car until she moved into assisted care in the mid-90s. She drove herself to my wedding shower in 1994 and an old high school friend exclaimed “your grandmother is STILL driving that car!?!” Everyone in town knew her car, so they’d know to watch out. She may have had the last Chevette of that year still on the road. It shouldn’t have been, that’s for certain. I drove it once and suggested that the odometer had turned over as it only seemed to have 30,000 miles on it after 20 years. No, that was accurate, even though she had driven it around Pickens County in the late 70s delivering meals to the elderly, even though she probably qualified for those meals herself. The car also had never been drove over 35 miles an hour. If you attempted to take it over that speed, it shook like a woman trying to get beads at Mardi Gras. Oh, and it rusted. Her solution? Yellow duct tape. She bragged about it to my sister, who had to admit “it looked pretty good.”
We were fortunate to have her here with us for about 80 years, but soon after that, she began to slip. She didn’t suffer from Alzheimer’s but it was similar. Instead, she had a series of mini-strokes (TIAs) that slowly took her away. After several of these, we were finally able to convince her to move into assisted living. Thank God we did. Once we got her out of there and cleaned out her home, we realized how far she had really slipped. My mother visited her faithfully, never really knowing who would be there. Would it be her mother? Or would it be someone living in a fantasy land, where she had the husband, the house and the money she never had in real life? On the best days, my mother would sing hymns with her.
My mother called me one day in February 2000 to tell me that Grandma had finally gone. She had just visited her the day before and had said it had been a really wonderful day with her. Apparently, this is pretty common with people right before they die. I’m grateful for it, because my mom and my grandmother had a very difficult relationship and my mom had been the primary caregiver for her over the past 26 years of SC residency. It wasn’t always easy either.
The news of her death was a relief. I had visited her a few weeks earlier and I barely recognized her. At that point, she was truly ready to move forward and we were too. She was a shell of who we knew and loved at that point.
So I think about the two deaths. The one of my grandmother, a slow, painful decline and my Uncle Dick, discovered by his son of an apparent heart attack, gone in seconds. I know what my cousin is dealing with is tough and shocking. But I also know watching a person slowly deteriorate is a different kind of hell as well.
So this brings me back to the fundraising issue again. I’ve had a fair number of people donate who have had relatives suffer from Alzheimer’s. They all say the same thing: cruel, horrible, painful, awful. A terrible way to lose a loved one. So I raise money for Alzheimer’s simply because it is an organization that not only researches solutions, but they support people who are slowly losing those they love, whether it is Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.