In October 2016, we lost my Nani, Marie Elder, to Alzheimer's disease and the loss has been overwhelming for the entire family. Growing up in a large Italian-American family, we were surrounded by love and laughter, and my grandparents played such a significant role in my life. Nani took care of her husband and six children, all of her grandchildren and all of our friends and neighbors like they were family. There was always room at the table and always laughs in the room. I always looked up to Nani and wanted to be just like her when I grew up. I was lucky because I had a Nani who was also one of my best friends. She was, very truly, the light of my life - of all of our lives - and the world is much dimmer without her.
When Nani was diagnosed with Alzheimer's about five years before she passed, none of us knew exactly what was in store for Nani or our family. Two years after her diagnosis, Nani was moved to Copper Creek Memory Care Facility in Chandler, AZ (from her home in NY). The last three years of her life were emotionally challenging for us, and physically draining on Nani. For myself, it was nice having her live close by, as I was able to visit a lot. On the other hand, seeing her all the time meant seeing the disease progress and we saw significant changes in her behavior and health. This is a wretched disease that no one deserves. It robs people of their memories, their emotions, their personal connections to those around them. It robs their families of the person they used to be. It takes the organs one by one, until there is nothing left. In Nani's case, I am grateful to say that she was able to keep a great deal of her memory until the end, and she was still able to talk to us and make us laugh during her last days, even through the pain. She was always thinking of us, and devoted her life to being our strength, our light, our home.
Losing Nani was the hardest thing our family has ever had to endure. The influence she had over my life will stay with me forever. I still think of her every day and I talk to her. I know she listens. I think of her when I play Frank Sinatra while I'm cooking and I imagine her there with me, dancing and laughing. I think of her when I am clumsy or do something silly and I know she would have laughed with me. I think of her when I curl up with the blanket she made me, each stitch another bit of love she sends me. I think of her when I see the kids in the family playing, knowing she is watching over them, so proudly. I think of all of the families who have gone through what we've gone through, and know that someday, people will not have to suffer this way. I continue to fight for the cure so that someday is soon.
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