In May of 2013, I lost my grandmother, Mimi. She was eighty-nine years old when she died. She'd suffered from dementia for many years. It came upon her slowly, and it's impossible to know exactly when it started. Years later she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's which is what ultimately caused her death.
I was Mimi's first grandchild, and I was her only grandchild until I was almost four years old. I spent a great deal of time with her - even lived with her several times throughout the years; as a child, then a teenager, and then as an adult when I rented out her basement apartment. My husband proposed to me in her house. A lot of memorable things happened to me, to my whole family, in her house.
Mimi was there for everything; dance recitals, school programs, skating competitions, fundraisers, birthdays, holidays ... you name it, she was a part of it. She supported every single thing that I did. She may not have agreed with it all, or understood why it was important, but if it meant something to me, she was behind me one hundred percent. We saw the Nutcracker ballet thirty-three years in a row, we shared a short-lived crafting business, and I named my daughter after her. We traveled to Mexico and Hawaii together, and she was the inspiration for my novel, Alabama Skye. Mimi was an enormous part of my world.
Was she a hero? Well, to me she was - but it's these four women surrounding Mimi that I think are the true heroes.
|Kathy, Nadine, Mimi, Donna and Linda (my mom)|
Mimi and my grandfather, Don, had four daughters. They were born about two years apart. My mom is the second eldest, and Kathy, the youngest, is about fourteen years older than I am. These four are amazing women - not just because they're all well-educated, or because they each had successful careers and families of their own - but because they carried Mimi - and each other - through one of the most painful, difficult times our family has ever faced.
Being a caregiver is a very difficult thing. I was able to help a little. I always spent a lot of time with Mimi. I even quit my job after she had a stroke in 1996 so that she would have someone with her all the time. I cleaned her house every week and cooked for her, but, fortunately, she recovered quickly. I took her to get her blood drawn quite often, and my kids and I would come and spend every Thursday with her. We'd run errands, get her grocery shopping done and have lunch together on these weekly visits. On Mondays, Mom would spend the day with Mimi and the kids and I would come over to eat dinner and we'd all watch Dancing With the Stars. I gave her monthly mani/pedi's and helped stock her fridge with frozen meals. I was a caregiver. I was able to do quite a bit for her over a long stretch of time, but I never provided for Mimi the way my mom and my aunts did.
I lived in Colorado, within thirty minutes of Mimi, for the first thirty-eight years of my life. In late 2008, we were transferred just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina for Steven's job. Telling Mimi we were moving was probably the hardest part of that relocation. Mimi had been suffering from dementia for a while when I left. She was struggling with her memory, and she'd grown weaker physically. She was still Mimi, though. I talked to her on the phone a couple of times a week. The area code for North Carolina is 919 and she oftentimes had difficulty with that. She struggled with Macular Degenration and couldn't see very well. She would hit the wrong buttons on the phone and accidentally dialed 911 on more than one occasion when trying to get a hold of me. It was two hours later where we were, and that tripped her up a little, but we worked it out. My mom and aunt Donna even brought her out to see us one fall, and we made it back to Colorado twice during our three years on the east coast.
At the end of 2011, my family was asked to move to Germany. We were able to spend about ten days in Colorado before we left. I was pretty sure Mimi understood what was happening. She knew we were going over for Steven's job, but she worried about us. This is when she really started to decline and the dementia worsened. When I would talk to her on the phone, she knew it was me, but she was confused about why were overseas. She called my kids by name, but she believed that they were still small. Maya was thirteen and Scotty was ten, but she always told me to 'take care of the baby'. The fact that we were in Germany scared her. In her head, it was the Germany of World War II, and she was always afraid for our safety. I was able to talk with her on the phone quite often, but with each phone call, I could see that her memory was declining.
Nadine, Mom, Donna and Kathy took care of Mimi, rarely leaving her alone. They worked together to make sure she had the doctor's appointments she needed, and they took turns spending the night with her. They made sure she was safe and comfortable. They made her meals and kept her company.
When it became obvious that Mimi could no longer stay in her own home, her daughters set about finding a good care facility for her and put her house on the market. They made incredibly hard decisions. They were exhausted - both mentally and physically - and they were all forced to watch Mimi's health deteriorate.
Alzheimer's is a horrible disease. It takes away bits and pieces of the sufferer. It causes them to say and do things they wouldn't normally say or do. It robs them of their precious memories, makes them feel scared and victimized - and it tortures those who love the one afflicted by it. I heard the pain and fatigue my mother felt in her voice when we spoke. I knew she and my aunts were feeling helpless and overwhelmingly sad. Still, they never faltered. They were all there - for Mimi and for one another.
|Kathy, Nadine, Linda and Donna|
There is no doubt in my mind that these four are heroes. I know for a fact that Mimi felt that way. I know they loved her - and continue to love her - with all their hearts. I know they pulled together, were strong for each other, and that they worked hard to make the best possible decisions for Mimi. I'm incredibly grateful for them, and I love each and every one of them with all my heart.