My grandmother was a very special person to me. She lived less than a half mile from me, easy walking distance for a visit, or lunch during summer camp or a snack after school when my parents left me in the care of my grandma or grandpa.
She loved the theatre. When I started working, I would buy her Broadway tickets each year. It was something she and I both looked forward to. When I was in a production of Noises Off, she VHS taped a production of Noises Off on the television for me, so she could give it to me to watch. She was very thoughful this way. She would always come to see shows I was performing in and was always there when I got off stage with a smile and a hug.
When I secured a job in Connecticut, she helped me find an apartment. She befriended my landlord, Gladys, and every time I saw my landlord, she would always ask how my grandmother was. My landlord thought I was good person people say I am), because I brought my grandmother to help me find a good apartment to live. I was a good tenant, BTW.
We traveled together, on fun trips to DisneyWorld and to see the Price is Right on my 30th Birthday with Bob Barker. When you go to the Price is Right, the casting team speaks to each person to see who they will pick for contestant’s row. Grandma proudly told the casting director, that she watched their boss every day.
And she came along on my business trips; she always said she had a suite case ready to go anywhere. We traveled together to the Florida State Fair and to Virginia Beach. She made business trips less lonely and fun.
Grandma started to change and I could not wrap my head around what was going on with her. When we went to Los Angeles for my 30th birthday, she would walk behind Jeff and I. When we went to Virginia Beach, I came back from an event, to find her confused and sick in bed. When I left her that morning, she was excited to go to the beach. She said a wave hit her in the water and she lost all her stuff on the beach. I was confused and honestly was tired and I found myself angry with her. We went to the local ER, and when the doctor asked her questions, I saw my grandmother flirting with the doctor and evading his questions. That was the last trip I ever went on with my grandmother.
She would call me often, just to see how I was, but those calls started to become less/less, until they were no more. One November, after she had Alzheimer’s for about 5 years, she called me. It was right before Thanksgiving. She told me she was sorry she did not call me that much anymore, that she was not as good with the phone anymore, but she was always thinking about me and loved me. It was a moment of clarity, in the chaos of Alzheimer’s that I remember so clearly and fondly. It was a gift that I will hold onto for the rest of my life.
I want to thank my Uncle Rick and Aunt Carol for all you did to manage my grandmother’s care. I know it is a full time job to care for someone who is sick and you made sure she had everything she needed. I also wanted to thank her long time caregiver who was an amazing caregiver, kept grandma safe and blessing to my grandmother throughout her battle with Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is awful. It slowly destroys your brain and nobody can see your sickness, so they think you are socially inappropriate, clumsy, violent or just senile. And while the physical person is there, they do not understand or you become a stranger to them. I tell my girls that great- grandma loved Christmas, swimming, eating half gallons of ice cream, worked at the high school I went to, but they never got to experience the love and friendship I felt from my grandmother.
When I started working at the Alzheimer’s Association, I did it to honor my grandmother’s memory. I had a story about her and pictures at each event to keep her memory alive and show how much this work meant to me. We raised money to honor my grandmother’s and so that my girls can one day see a cure for this disease and not ever have to see someone they love suffer through Alzheimer’s or any form of dementia. We will continue to walk each year for Grandma Betty, but this year I will hold a purple flower (to honor someone who has passed from Alzheimer’s).
And I learned so much at the Alzheimer’s Association. I learned that grandma was hiding Alzheimer’s for a long time from all of us. She was confused, was paranoid, forgetful, stopped caring about getting her hair done, was depressed, wandered and fell a lot. And that I should have listened more to my grandmother and friend, versus getting frustrated with her. I learned ways that I could have better engaged her, such as playing cards or listening to Broadway music.
I learned now, that when I see someone is confused, or inappropriately dressed in the warm or cold weather, I think about my grandmother and ask if they are okay or if they need assistance. I have not gotten punched yet.
My grandmother, Betty loved to travel, riding roller coasters, a good swim, reading a good mystery novel and was always up for a trip to Friendly’s. When you leave here, and travel or have an ice cream cone…. remember Betty. Live Life. Be Kind. Help someone. Take time to listen. Just like my grandmother did.
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