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Family they used to know

Posted on July 05 2012

I’m one of the lucky ones, and I’ve always known it. I’ve been able to grow up knowing my mother’s parents – to spend the last 32 years hearing stories of their lives, learning from them, and living with their love. A few years ago – both of them were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. My grandmother got the double whammy of also being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and my grandfather got the double whammy of being diagnosed with Dementia.At first, the symptoms weren’t so obvious, especially with my grandfather. My grandmother – she declined much more quickly. These days, the periods of lucidity are fewer and farther between. Most days, you find yourself repeating the same information 10-15 times in a 30 minute period, because she just can’t remember. The hardest part is looking at her, having her look at you – and seeing the blank stare in her eyes because she doesn’t remember who you are.My grandfather has held out a lot longer, although – in the last year, has really gone downhill fast. My Papa is a decorated war veteran, a survivor of the Bataan Death March, joined the Army (illegally) at the age of 12 – and was a prisoner of war by the time he was 17. He’s been the backbone of my family his entire life, a logistical engineer, a member of Mensa. So smart, an extremely dry sense of humor, a rare smile – but when he did – you knew it he really found something funny. My favorite memories of him – going with him to the Base barber shop to get his hair cut, and afterwards, we’d stop by the ice cream shop to get an ice cream. As I got older, he’d help me work on my car, trusting me to do things on my own (under his supervision of course!). In the last year, he’s become someone who is difficult to be around. The Alzheimer’s and Dementia have robbed him of his ability to think rationally. He often holds the remote control to his ear, thinking the television is speaking directly to him through it. He has reverted back to past years – when he was in the military, always telling us that “they” have called him back to active status, and he’s just waiting for his orders. He believes his mother is still alive and is out on the town with someone, and has been avoiding him – she passed away nearly 20 years ago. It’s absolutely devastating and heartbreaking to see what this disease has done to him, to my grandmother, and to the rest of my family.My bravelets will remind me that I can be brave and will fight for them. I will fight for every grandma and papa who no longer have the voices to fight for themselves.

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