Posts Tagged ‘dementia’

Hi Grandpa, I understand now

This time of year I’m always emotional. I’ve previously complained about my birthday overlap with Mother’s Day and how the weekend is usually not something I’ve ever enjoyed much. But I think that’s done and past. The emotions don’t quite go completely away, but I’ve grown out of my bitterness.

photo (12)The emotions begin on May 7, which is my late Grandpa’s birthday. May was special to him because he received a grandchild on his wedding anniversary (me!), which was just 3 days after his birthday. Grandma and Grandpa never hid their love for me. They were very verbal about it – especially Grandma. Most of my memories of them are warm and gentle.

But there’s a few memories of Grandpa in there that catch my breath and sting a little.

My memory of all the details is fuzzy because I was a kid, and honestly, the adults around me talked very little about health concerns (now, for which, I’m glad to have been spared some details). Grandma had beat breast cancer in the 70s, and then again later at some point when I was alive (again, fuzzy). When I was older – early teens – the lymph nodes in her arm began to swell and give her trouble with lymphedema, which was around the same time that I started to recognize behavior changes. Mainly confusion. She lost her nouns first. Then some verbs. I didn’t know much about dementia then, and I still don’t know if she had a proper diagnosis.

Before her symptoms were getting worse, Grandma and Grandpa moved across the Indiana border to live in Ohio, closer to my aunt so she could keep an eye on them. As Grandma progressed, they eventually moved from their condo into the house directly across the street from my aunt and uncle. It was sad to see Grandma lose pieces of her vocabulary, but I never felt awkward about it. She was still herself – warm, gentle, loving. Perhaps thankfully, she died of complications other than dementia, so I didn’t see her progress to the late-stages.

I’m not sure if Grandpa was starting to demonstrate behavior changes during this time or if it was after Grandma’s death, but life started to get confusing. Dad was always worried about them, and I’m sure he felt like he was further away in distance than actuality. My aunt became caregiver and helped make their lives comfortable.

I feel like Grandpa gave up after Grandma was gone. Perhaps it was the stress involved with caring for a spouse, or maybe it was some kind of dementia. He was never diagnosed, either, that I know – and certainly, he didn’t have the progression that Grandma did. But things changed, and I saw pieces of a different person emerge – and then isolate and withdraw. It was frightening, and I distanced myself away from him, not understanding what a disease can do to a wonderful, great and compassionate mind.

It’s only been in the last few years that I have “forgiven” Grandpa for doing things I didn’t approve of and becoming someone not-Grandpa. It came up in conversation today, and my mind was again flooded with angry thoughts from adolescence, but they are only memories of anger. I wish I would have known what I do now about neurological and degenerative diseases. It would have helped me properly say goodbye to my grandparents.

I miss them. I miss hearing, “Grandma loves you.” And the older I get, the more I see them in my looks and personality traits. Though neither one had Alzheimer’s disease as an official diagnosis, I am still honoring them each year I participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. When I lead volunteer orientations, I tell others that the Walk is a day of hope. So much distress surrounds Alzheimer’s and dementia, but this is one day that the nation can rally together in hope for a cure.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the disease eliminated from this world? Wes would never have to see anyone – let alone his grandparents – go through such a life-changing journey. This year, on Grandpa’s birthday, I understand, and I have hope.

Posted: May 6th, 2014
Categories: Leah
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The Day After

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday, the day of celebration. And yesterday was Good Friday. But what about that day of gloom in between? No one seems to recognize it, but I have always considered it one of the worst days of limbo each year.

When my grandma was admitted to the hospital, we knew to say our goodbyes. I was 15; insecure and troubled with my own inner struggles. She was one that I connected with; I wanted to grow up to be like my grandma. She was kind, gentle and had a full heart of love for everybody. And she never lost the chance to tell us grandkids so. But she had not been herself over the last few years; dementia had nestled into her mind and began to do its unfair damage. It’s such a cruel disease. I had slowly said my goodbyes to the grandma I knew up until the hospital.

The followers of Jesus didn’t get a chance to say their goodbyes over the course of time. Not like I did with my grandma. Of course, he gave them plenty of advance notice, but chances are they were just typical people who didn’t understand his meanings until much later.

Grandma went to be with God pretty soon after she was admitted. Or so I remember. In my memory, it was time. I had let her go, and I didn’t weep like I thought I would have. There was no easy way for the followers of Jesus to let him go. They had to watch him be tried, beaten and torn in two. They watched their beloved hang and bleed, and I can only imagine the sounds of sorrow, anguish and pain from those who loved him as he breathed his last.

They were able to finally say goodbye when he was placed in the tomb. They probably felt defeated, confused and so, so tired. It wears the body down to mourn that hard. I mean, you probably remember the last time you cried so hard your eyes burned. That’s not something you forget – because all your energy is seeped out into tears. I wonder what the memorial service for Jesus was like. Did the soldiers gawk? Did they feel the tiniest bit of pity for the survivors? Did Jesus’ followers try to comfort each other?

The funerals in my family are more like celebrations. We love seeing everyone and catching up. It’s a morbid way for a family reunion, but I am blessed to know that most of my family members know Jesus, and so, it is not a doomed situation. We grieve together, but then we remember. You’ll typically find us laughing and smiling. And I really think that’s how my passed family members would want it.

And then? After the burial? Everyone’s supposed to go “back to normal.”

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Grandma’s locket

I seem to remember holding it together pretty well during my grandma’s funeral. But man, those days following were tough. I think it hit me all of a sudden, and then I was expected to reenter into those difficult and challenging adolescent days. People don’t think to check up on those who’ve lost a loved one very well. I think I could have benefited from a caring person who understood that I hadn’t fully finished mourning. I still have days where I think fondly of her, even all these years later. I know she is with Jesus, but I am selfish and wish she could have met my husband and son. These are the days that I pull out her old jewelry, a memento.

What about the followers of Jesus? What could they have been thinking? Did they feel tricked? Did they even think at all? I have to believe that those who continued with their lives “as normal” the day after Jesus’ death had the most faith in the entire world. They must have known it wasn’t the end.

Seriously, Day 2 is more gloomy and horrible than Good Friday to me. I am grateful to know the rest of the story, and you better believe I’ll be celebrating in the morning!

Posted: March 30th, 2013
Categories: Leah
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