September 17, 2015

The Long Goodbye...

If you have a friend or family member that has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's or dementia - you're familiar with many doctors calling it "the long goodbye".  Today, on my grandmother's 93rd birthday; the first one we're celebrating without her, I can't help but reflect on that phrase.

The truth is - her decline was the longest and shortest years of our lives. They dragged out but were over in the blink of an eye, and the journey brought many of our family members closer together as we fought to get through it.

At her 90th birthday party!

We saw signs shortly before her 90th birthday.  But we threw her a HUGE party.  It was her one request...and how do you say "no" to that?!  She had an amazing time!

We now know that was her "line in the sand".  She staved off the disease by sheer will until that party.  Two weeks later, confusion had taken hold.  As with many people, as the disease progressed, she started seeing people, we got stories/memories never heard of before and started slowly transitioning her away from the freedoms (unlocked doors, ability to cook, etc) that she had before.  None of us wanted to; the progression of the disease became an undeniable truth. My mom and aunt held off putting her in a nursing home as long as they humanly could...but for their sanity and her safety, it just had to happen.

In the last year of her life, she became largely non-verbal, lost the ability to walk and swallow.  As much as we loved her, she was a shell of the woman that we knew.  Her essence; her vitality; her personality and sense of humor...all gone. I can tell you the exact date she last recognized me without being prompted.

At the end, we endured a long five days as her body finally gave in and shut down.  These days were punctuated by snow storms, tears, stories from my mom and her remaining siblings of their favorite memories and whispers of reassurance to her that it was OK to go.

So, on her birthday, I choose to shed a few tears - knowing she's somewhere feeling whole and healthy again; eating cake, drinking Kahlua, and laughing.  I look at the rings left to the women in our family and know she left a little piece of herself behind for us to cherish.

This.  This is how I choose to remember her.  With horrible polyester '70's shirts and an easy smile.


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