Posted on November 29, 2016 · Posted in Social Media Management by

Some of you might wonder why I am writing this blog about Alzheimer’s disease for my business page. If you continue reading, I hope that you will come to understand how it all ties together.  November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness month. Over 5.4 Million people are living with the disease today in the U.S.  In my family we’ve lost three family members to this disease: my Nana, Uncle Terry and now Gram Betty.   I am taking this time to tell my story of how Nana’s disease has changed my life, my family and my way of thinking.

As I began to prepare for the holidays, memories of my Nana come rushing back.  She was the woman that put everyone else first, sat by our bedsides when we were ill, rocked us to sleep and had late night gab sessions.  She was committed to her family and her community; she loved people and the town she came to call home, Walpole N.H.

Forget Me Not! My Alzheimer’s Story

Christmas 1982

Nana came from nothing. She was given up as an infant and taken in by a woman in a wheelchair in Boston who she called Nana.  When this woman could no longer care for her, she was sent to Kurn Hattin to finish out school.  This, in turn, led her to my grandfather, whom she met while working in Walpole for a family as a mother’s helper.  The rest is history.  Her story always amazed me-this woman who was abandoned as a child would grow up to have so much love inside of her.  She put that love into everything she did for us- good was not good enough, it had to be great!  As a child I remember her teaching me how to make peanut butter cookies with the fork marks just right, how to fold sheets, and the ever popular cornbread stuffing recipe I will be preparing this Thanksgiving for my family and friends. She would stay up all night stuffing stockings for all her kids, even as adults, so everything was just right.

There is another thing that my Nana was famous for and that is her definition of family.  You see, if she heard of someone that was going to be alone at the holidays or needed a hot meal, you would be joining us because she really didn’t take no for an answer.  She would give people without family a home and even took in a young girl that we called Aunt Didi.

This outlook and her definition of family has been passed down to her kids and now to her grandkids.  She always taught me that giving was better than receiving and to appreciate what we have.  Many years ago, I’m talking 30 or more, she met Linda, a friend of my mom’s. She asked her if she would be spending the holidays with her mother.  Linda told Nana that her mother had passed years before and that Christmas hasn’t been the same since. The next thing you knew she was with us every holiday after that!  Linda and her sister became part of our family. Nana took them in as her own and they would then call her Mom.

In 1995 my mom started to see signs that Nana’s every day activities, like paying bills, were not being done.  After some investigating, we realized that things were not as they had once been.  It wasn’t until a few years later that things had progressed enough that we knew there was something more than just forgetfulness and regular aging going on.  She was tested in 1999 and diagnosed in December with Alzheimer ’s disease.  This was a huge blow to all of us. The woman that was the glue that literally held our family together was going to go through the most horrific disease.

The next twelve years definitely took its toll on our family.  Watching this woman who we all loved so dearly begin to leave us was the worst kind of torture.  I learned a lot about myself through this journey: what I am capable of, what she taught me, and how powerful love can be.  One of the times I remember the most that depicts the kind of person she was was when my husband and I took her out for ice cream.  When we returned to the nursing home she refused to go back in, she wanted to go home.  I had to lie to her and tell her that she had left her purse inside earlier and we had to go get it.

Forget Me Not! My Alzheimer’s Story It helped that Nana worked at the very nursing home where she now resided so she always thought that she was there taking care of everyone else.  When we returned her to her room she had a moment of clarity.  She asked why she was there, I had to tell her that she was sick.  She then said “What do I have?”. With a lump in my throat I said “You have Alzheimer’s Disease, Nana”.  Her response was in true Nana form in her Boston accent. She said “Oh dahlin, that must be so hard for you!” and she held on to me tight, consoling ME!  She was more worried about me rather than herself.

Towards the end of her disease she may have forgotten my name but in her heart she could never forget us.  Even in the last few weeks her facial expressions told my cousins and I that she could hear us reminiscing in her room about old times with her and how we used to drive her crazy.  Her eyebrows would raise and her face would calm as we sat by her bed singing to Roy Orbison and Johnny Mathis together.  On the day she passed there was nothing you could do to make me leave her side, because that’s what she would have done.

It would be very easy to be angry and feel cheated from losing so many years with her.  Instead I’ve asked myself many times what she would want me to do.  I hear her voice in my head telling me to enjoy my life and live it to the fullest.  In her honor I try to help people whenever I can, hold doors for little elderly ladies, be compassionate and love with everything I have.  I am passionate about whatever I do in life and tend to “over-do” things (I’ve been told).  Recently my husband said something to me that really opened my eyes.  I was worrying about something silly to do with work which is also very typical of me. He said “Anyone can do what you do, honey, if they want to learn it. What they cannot duplicate is YOU and your passion.” At that very moment I realized that I have in fact turned into my Nana.  So, even though she is not with me in body, she has instilled in me her good values and love for people, community, and family.

I hope that somewhere over the rainbow she sees that she is always in my heart.  This Thanksgiving I will have friends and family at my table. On Christmas Eve, my mom, Linda (her adopted daughter) and I will share a toast graveside to you, Nana, while blasting Johnny Mathis on the radio and singing along.  I will always dance like no one is watching, laugh like crazy and take time to hear the peepers…Mom and I are who we are because of you, Nana. This I will never forget!

Music By the Lovely and Talented Ms. Karen Bays Ducharme <3