Today’s blog comes from Nicole Hebert, Alzheimer’s communication manager for Lilly.
This will be the first Mother’s Day without my grandmother, Gloria – Grandma Glory to us kids. She passed away last June from complications due to Alzheimer’s. She was 90 and still as sweet as the homemade cherry pies she used to lovingly make in her kitchen.
Before my grandfather, Max, passed away 20 years ago, he told my mom and her two siblings to watch carefully over Grandma Glory, as her memory wasn’t “quite right.” It turned out he had been shielding the family from the signs of dementia.
In reality, it’s no secret that Alzheimer’s disproportionately impacts women – not just in terms of higher rates of diagnosis, but also when it comes to caregiving.
The Alzheimer’s Association notes that almost two-thirds of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers are women, and more than one-third of these are daughters. While these numbers alone tell a compelling story about the harsh reality for women and families in America, they don’t really hit home until the disease takes a devastating hold on your own world.
That’s how it happened in my family. Slowly, over 20 years, we watched a quiet, hard-working farm girl fade into a shadow of her old self. Grandma Glory went from expertly managing her type 2 diabetes, to not being able to remember when she last checked her blood sugar. She went from baking the very best homemade cherry pies, to hoarding massive amounts of grape jelly packets. The shadow we were left with was barely recognizable to our family, and it broke our hearts.
Caregiving is not for the weak. Grandma Glory was lucky. She had three loving children who were able to help care for her. I witnessed the unselfish and patient love my mom and her siblings delivered daily, giving back to Grandma Glory for her decades of caring for them. And I discovered that even in the darkest of moments, humor can heal and push you through to the next moment, the next day, the next stage.
On this Mother’s Day, I’m cherishing the memories of my sweet grandma and giving thanks to the caregivers, like my mom, who give tirelessly to allow their loved ones with dementia to live with dignity and respect.