Love and Alzheimer’s

My Godmother is the family “fixer”. The first on the scene of crisis, with her signature hurricane of love.

For example, the morning after I came home from college due to a personal tragedy her car screeched into the driveway at such classic, but alarming speed and she burst into the house rattling off my to-do’s for the day. First, a trip to Nature’s Bin so I could get some Fish Oil for mental health, of course, some vitamins and tea. Next, she made a list of psychologists she’d personally vetted who were expecting my call. She had every angle covered, and you didn’t dare fight back - mostly because it would be a waste of your energy. You were allotted some time for wallowing and sadness, but then it was time to put yourself back together. She was the grand marshall of my personal healing.

She’s always been my biggest fan and supporter. I told her I liked writing when I was seven and every gift for years after that was a reminder to keep going; a notebook, a diary, a bookmark - anything she could think of to help keep my dream alive. If I had doubts, she would pull them out of me and shoot it dead on the spot.

As I grew older she became my reality touchstone. Never one to mince words, she was like a blunt force object of love. If I was feeling like I made a misstep she would metaphorically hold up the mirror and make me admit it. Just like her mother, my nana, her love is delivered right between the eyes, and always with a healthy dose of Irish humor.

Admittedly, during my teen and early adult years our relationship was kept in tact by her unrelenting efforts to get together, because as she always reminded me, family comes first. As the old saying goes though, you never quite know what you got until it’s gone.

I still remember the day I knew something wasn’t quite right. We were meeting for a glass of wine, a quarterly catch-up, where she would conduct the usual status check on me: job, friends, family, boyfriends. She is always early, her punctuality perhaps a nod to her “waste no time” personality. I parked next to her car and noticed she left her car door wide open. She was waving at me from the table she secured and when I pointed it out to her she laughingly shrugged it off. True, something like this is bound to happen when you move as fast as she does, but this felt different.

Three months later, over dinner, my dad broke the news, Early Onset Alzheimer’s. A year or so prior, we all said goodbye to my Nana who suffered from the disease for years. I knew what was coming.

A few weeks later the family held a meeting, and the irony was almost too heavy. How the hell do you help the master of helping? This was not our territory. She used to be the one leading these meetings. Her absence was felt like a gaping hole in the wall.

But like any great leader, she taught us well - especially her own children and husband. They wasted no time circling the wagons and putting plans in action. I don’t think I have ever really appreciated the depth and reach of our family’s love until I started seeing the wheels in motion. I’ve been on the receiving end but I never saw it from this perspective before. It’s awesome and it is humbling, and I know she’d be proud.

I understand now why she was chosen. She spent her life teaching us how to help and heal, and now it’s our turn. No one can ever be prepared for the amount of pain and profound sadness that comes with this excessively cruel disease. But in letting her help us all these years, we know how to do it.

It’s hard to grasp the concept of a person you love disappearing before your eyes, but I’ve found there to be some beauty in the sadness. It’s taught me patience and understanding. It’s opened my eyes a little wider and made me pay closer attention to those I love and most importantly, to stay present and appreciate little moments. She was never a time waster and neither is this disease. Quick and to the point, just like her. The little moments of clarity I have with her now I know will be gone months from now. The disease now serves as an exclamation point to the lesson she’s taught me my entire life: waste no time letting those around you know you love them.

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Megan Conway

A 30-something Cleveland native who writes better than she speaks.

6 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I LOVE this. It struck a chord with me. My grandma has dimentia. I’m so close to her, much like you and your godmother. My grandma is far down the dimentia path and the disease is severe at times. It’s gut wrenching. 🙁

  • Wow. So powerful and I don’t think there is a person in the world who can’t relate. We revere our strong, independent elders who have guided us through so much of our lives (and heartaches) and then the time comes when they need to lean on us. It makes you realize how precious time and life is and that the full circle of life is very real. Thanks for sharing such a personal story with us!

  • Thanks everyone! I really appreciate your taking the time to read such an intimate post about such an important person in my life - and the dynamics of my family - I can never find enough words to say how magnificent each and every one of them are.

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