Memories Stolen – A Story of Alzheimer’s
My early childhood memories involve spending weeks at a time during the summer with my Mamaw and Papaw. We played endless Uno games near the window air conditioner, and I started everyday with scrambled eggs and toast slathered with fresh strawberry preserves. Lunches and dinners often consisted of fresh vegetables straight from their massive garden accompanied by pan-fried hamburgers or chicken.
I’m the only child of an only child on my dad’s side of the family. Consequently, my Mamaw spoiled me from the moment she first held me. Doting to the point of overprotectiveness, she sometimes annoyed with her personal questions and unsolicited advice, but I knew every question and comment came from love. Sometime in late junior high or early high school, she started repeating some questions just a few moments after she had asked them. Today, many would question that behavior as a potential warning sign of Alzheimer’s onset. In the late 1980’s, we chalked it up to the natural aging process for someone in her late sixties.
I don’t remember a lot of details about her decline, and during my high school and college years, I visited less. Getting busy and building my own life made it easy to avoid life’s harsh reality. It hurt to see this woman about whom I cared so much slowly fade away. I also feared what it meant for me. Would my kids have to care for me at some point in the future? Would I lose my memories, my thoughts, everything that makes ME to the disease. Alzheimer’s steals away a person’s mind while their body lingers on…sometimes for years.
That’s what happened to my Mamaw. My Papaw heroically cared for her in her final years almost single-handedly. Living about an hour away, my dad would visit on weekends and provide what respite he could. Few home care services existed then, and no one wanted to put her in a nursing home until we absolutely had to.
My Papaw is one of the strongest people I’ve ever known, both in terms of physical and emotional strength. As long as I could remember, he worked the garden with Mamaw, chopped wood in winter and maintained their home, all after losing one of his legs long before I was born.
Despite that strength, caring for Mamaw in those last years wore on him. I saw it in his eyes and heard it in his voice. Dad’s weekend visits helped, but did little to ease the exhaustion of round-the-clock care. No amount of love can temper the frustration that comes unbidden when you answer the same question for the 20th time in an hour.
My Mamaw died on June 16, 2000, at the age of 79, but we actually lost her well before then.