My life was first touched by Alzheimer’s after my grandmother, lovingly referred to as Ninga, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Ninga was strong Irish woman, born on St. Patrick’s Day, who loved and adored her family. Because she was blessed to be born on St. Patrick’s Day she considered that to make her 100% Irish (even if she was 50% Irish and 50% Danish, you’d soon regret pointing that out to her). As a result, St. Patrick’s Day was the second biggest holiday (after Christmas) for her family and every year, the family would get together to celebrate. The location may have changed but one thing stayed the same, there would be corned beef, cabbage, chocolate cake, and family. Ninga cherished her family and had an enormous amount of love to give. She was the ultimate grandmother and managed to love and treat each of her 11 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren as if he/she was her “favorite.” Ninga’s great love of family and the amazing memories she created made it all the more tragic to watch her forget her family members and the lifetime of memories she cherished.
While my grandmother suffered with Alzheimer’s, my mother was her primary caretaker and I watched as my mother, who should have been entering the “freedom” stage of her life with her youngest child entering college, make sacrifice after sacrifice to care for her mother. The simple task of running to store the became an obstacle and the ability to visit my brother for Parent’s Weekend at school an ordeal as she at times struggled to find someone who Ninga could stay with for her to go away. Despite the sacrifices and hardship that comes with being a caretaker, if you asked my mother, she wouldn’t do it any different. I believe most people caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s feel the same way. The one amazing thing this disease has is the massive amount of love it brings out in people. Love that can often times be unreturned. The most heartbreaking moment from my grandmother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s that I know of, is one Mother’s Day where my grandmother came down to the kitchen and my mother said “Hi Mom! Happy Mother’s Day!” In response, my grandmother said, “Same to you. You know, I have been meaning to ask you, is your mother still alive?” I can only begin to imagine how heartbreaking that must have been for my mother and that is just one instance of what those caring for loved ones suffering with Alzheimer’s experience.
The Alzheimer’s Association CT Chapter was a great resource for my mother and since I have been involved, I have grown to see just how truly wonderful an organization it is and the amazing people it brings together. I will continue to be a champion to #EndAlz for those suffering from Alzheimer’s, their caretakers and loved ones so that one day we live in a world free from Alzheimer’s.