My grandma began to show signs of Alzheimer's a few years ago. It was a little bit at first, as I'm sure it always starts out that way... there were some family members who seemed to be in denial, though I can't really say for sure. My grandma was, of course, in denial. But as time passed, it was truly obvious and eventually, my grandma didn't even remember that she had anything to deny.
All in all, though a horrible disease, the Alzheimer's was a blessing. It was hard to watch my grandma decline. It was little things at first - forgetting times, names, etc... but it finally got to the point where she didn't know what to do with herself during the day. She couldn't cook anymore, didn't really know how to clean anymore... and she would often just take walks back the road. She had had her knee replaced not long before and would talk about getting her exercise so that one day she would run again, just like Jesus promised. Sometimes I would walk with her or invite her into my house, since I lived on that road. Sometimes we would go to my parents house (next door at the time) for dinner and she would repeat herself in conversation. My parents and I would exchange glances, but just roll with it.
They say that some people get violent and angry as Alzheimer's creeps into their brain. We were blessed that grandma took on a child-like innocence. The situation brought the family closer together, bit by bit. There was an effort keep grandma safely occupied during the day. She would spend time with my aunt at her beauty salon (she liked to sweep the floors) or at my dad's garage (she liked to sweep the waiting room floor). Eventually, it became too much for her to live at home, though my (step)grandpa was there. He was not able to help her in the ways she needed, and quite frankly, he didn't have the patience. The family decided it was best for her to go into a lock-down Alzheimer's Unit at a local nursing home. They were wonderful! She had her own room and we were able to visit. Again, bringing the family a bit closer together since there was so much effort made in being there for grandma. She didn't just go into the home to sit and rot. She went in and constantly had visitors. We were allowed to sign her out for the day, which I often did when I came to town each week. Since I wasn't working (I was el-preggo with Eloise), it was convenient for me to pick grandma up and take her to my dad's garage where we would spend the day with my sister, her kids, my mom and dad (in between their work, of course). We would laugh at the kids, have lunch and snacks. Grandma would sweep the floors or wash windows to keep herself busy. I look back and am thankful for those times. Even though she wasn't in her right mind, she was still grandma.
Of course, she steadily declined. She couldn't remember my name at my baby shower and had to be taken back to the home early because she was getting agitated over little things. Soon after, she had to be moved to another part of the nursing home because she required different care than what the lock-down had to offer. We visited her on Christmas Day 2010 and she was alert and talked to us. She told me that she loved me.... I wasn't able to visit again after that until February, because I had just had Eloise in January and couldn't make the hour drive. When I did finally see her, she had done a 180. She was no longer up and walking around. She lay in bed or in a chair and mostly slept. Over time her hands started to twist and she was in a lot of pain. She couldn't feed herself, bathe herself, etc. My aunt became very dedicated about coming in to help feed her lunch... meanwhile making friends with other residents and building relationships. Those folks began to look forward to her coming and bringing them coffee, treats, doing a crossword puzzle with them, and most of all... looking forward to her friendship. My other aunt, uncle and my dad would visit after work in the evenings and other family members and friends here and there. Honest to goodness, I believe our family was the most devoted to coming in and spending time with her. It is sad to see how many people put their folks in a nursing home and then never stop to visit.
The past couple of weeks, grandma declined rapidly. She stopped eating and we knew it was only a matter of time. Her wishes were to not have a feeding tube, not be resuscitated, etc. Eloise and my nephew went with me this past Wednesday to see her. My aunt was popping popcorn for some of the residents. There were old folks wheeling themselves down from other floors to get some of that popcorn! We went in to see grandma. She opened her eyes once for me... and then seemed to fall asleep. While my aunt and nephew went to pop more popcorn, Eloise and I sat with grandma and I had a few brief moments to talk to her. We didn't stay long after that... but I knew in my heart it was the last time I would see her.
Last night, my mom called to tell me that she was headed into the Home because things weren't looking good. She told me to pray that grandma would pass quickly (and oddly enough, I had just been praying that very thing when she called). My dad was already in there with some other family. I texted my aunt to ask her to tell grandma that I love her... and not even 5 minutes later, my mom called to tell me that she had just passed.
There is such a mixture of sadness and happiness. Grandma had no quality of life in her vegetative state. She was in pain most of the time. But through her disease, she was able to bring such joy to the other folks at the home through my family's visits. I know that if she could have understood the good that her pain was bringing, she would have agreed to do it again in a heartbeat.
As I drifted off to sleep last night, I pictured my grandma running into the arms of Jesus. She said He promised her that one day she would run again... and last night, that promise was fulfilled.
I love you, Grandma... See you again one day!