Sunday, March 29, 2009


As we grow old, the beauty steals inward.
- Bronson Alcott

Nana CU 2

Nana (my Grandmother, Gram to me but Nana to the boys, her great-grandchildren) turned 85 Saturday. Our birthdays are exactly a week and 40 years apart. Looking back now, it seems strange that she was a grandmother at 40. I’m 45 and my kids are barely teenagers, but back then things were different, she was different. Nana has Alzheimer’s. It started about a year before my Grandfather died. At first it was little things, not remembering what entrance she used when she went to the mall, leaving food in the oven or microwave, adding or leaving out ingredients in recipes, just little ordinary things that happen to us regular folks all the time, but Nana’s forgetfulness worsened. By the time my grandfather passed away she was in the beginning stages of the disease and has gotten progressively worse since. That first year after he died was hell for all of us. She was combative, she was mean, she swore!! This woman who I had never heard utter a nasty word in her life started speaking like a sailor. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I would scold her for her swearing, all the while trying not to laugh while I did it.

Nana hands mug

That first year was hell for all of us. Watching this woman that we all loved just fall to pieces was unbearable at times. She moved into assisted living into a lock down unit. She hated it. She cursed when we would visit. She wanted to go home. She would ask about her washer and dryer of all things. Every time we’d visit she’s say “how is my washer and dryer?” and my mother would tell her they were fine. Sounds crazy right but that’s the way her brain worked. You begin to wonder if there is anything left of the person that this disease took from you.

Nana smile

I had only one moment with her in the past 5 years that she was my Gram again. We were sitting in her room about a month after she moved into the facility and we were talking about nothing in particular and she was chatting away and then suddenly her face just changed. I can’t explain it, but I could see in her eyes she was back and she looked at me and said, “Don’t you think for a minute that I don’t know I’m going crazy”. That was it. As fast as she came back, she was gone again and she’s never returned. So that was our moment. The last of my Gram that I will keep locked away inside me forever. Sometimes I see this quiet desperation in her eyes and I wonder if she is having a moment of clarity and is horrified at what she’s become. Cruel as it sounds, I hope the moments of clarity are few and far between, because she would be just as shocked at who she is now as we are.

Nana cookie

I tell my boys about her before the disease, how she was an expert seamstress and sewed almost all of my clothes when I was younger. She even made all the girls in the neighborhood that I grew up in matching bikinis one year. Oh were we thrilled. It was 1974 and we all had bathing suits made out of material that looked like bandanas. We were totally cool. She crocheted and knitted too. Every woman we knew had one of her beautiful knitted purses. She was a great cook, soup being one of her specialties and every Easter she would make ham & cheese pies and rice pies. She was married to a man who loved her so deeply that even without knowing them; you could just look at them and see it. If you show her a picture of my Grandfather now, she will tell you she has no idea who “that man” is. Thank goodness he isn’t here to see that. It would have crushed him.

Nana CU3

So on her birthday a little part of me mourned for a person who is not dead. Who is here among the living but is not really living at all and what saddens me more than anything is that my kids will never really know her, the beautiful, kind, and sweet lady that she was. The talented, patient, loving person I grew up with. The real Nana that would have loved to have been all that and more to them.

Nana boys


RootsAndWingsCo said...

How very sad. Quite a sobering tale for me, as I still have both of my Grandmother's alive and well. One just turned 93 and the other is 10 years younger. I wouldn't say all is well with them. In our family, each of us calls the Birthday person and sings Happy Birthday to them. When I called my Grandma (who just turned 93) I was sad that she didn't remember a few details of my life. Now I realize how fortunate I am that she still remembers who I am and who my children are! So very lucky. Thank you for your tale. I can't imagine...Lucky that you have the great memories as well!

preTzel said...

I'm so sorry that your grandmother has Alzheimer's Lisa. It's a very difficult and hard disease for the loved ones of those who have it. My husband's grandfather had it and when he came to our wedding we all tried hard not to laugh. He would put candy down by his leg, during the ceremony, and would go "Psst, pssssst...little boy. You want some candy?" He was trying to get my oldest son and his cousin to come get some candy from him. If we didn't know this man we would have thought he was a pedophile because when the candy didn't work he pulled out his wallet and started using 20s to lure them over. LOL!

Happy Birthday to your Gram/Nana and may you keep her memories close in comfort.

Kelly B said...

That is so sad. My Grandmother is going down that same path now. She knows it. And she is bitter. Her bitterness comes from her husband's death and knowing that she is losing it. Even though she is technically still here, she has become angry and mean. It makes me sad that my kids will never know her as the jolly and fun lady she was when I was little. So I can understand where you are coming from. My Aunt, her sister, also has dementia. They talk of old age being the golden years, but watching them, I wonder where that came from. It is so very sad.... :(

The Real Estate Talker said...

What a beautiful story you tell of her, and it all comes from your heart. My Meme had it also, a very sad disease. My mom died from complications of Lou Gehrigs disease, complete opposite of Alzheimer's they lose all bodily functions, but there brain is sharp as a tack, which one is worse I don't know.

Christine said...

What a beautiful bittersweet story. Your Grandmother sounds like a wonderful person.


Shelley said...

I despise Alzheimers. My granny had it and it was so heartbreaking for her not to know who we were. Somedays she did, some days she didn't. At least the boys have you to give them your wonderful memories of her.
My husbands grandmother is 92 this year and was beginning to go down hill mentally, but then they figured out she had diabetes and since they put her on insulin, she is back to being sharp as a tack. And for that blessing we are all grateful.
Blessings to you and yours.

Cathy ~ Tadpoles and Teacups said...

I know exactly what you mean--with my grandfather, it was almost harder to watch him feel embarrassed and confused in the early stages of Alzheimers. The disease is a terrible thief.

Touching post.

Leah said...

>:)< Thank you for sharing your memories of your grandma. Alzheimer's is such a devastating disease - hold onto and write about her as she was as much as you can - so you have a record to look back at. Thank you for sharing.

SayYourPiece said...

What a pretty lady your grandmother is. You words are perfectly chosen; no doubt there will be more than a few who will take comfort your sharing.

Donna S. said...

It is so surprising when you hear about them being such a different person. It is awful enough to lose your memory but to be the opposite of what you are really like is such a shame. She is a beautiful woman & you can tell she is still lovingly cared for.

Jules said...

Aw Lisa,
First - great post. I'm impressed with how well you wrote about this considering how "close to the bone" it is for you.
My mom's mom spent the last 16 years of her life wandering lost in an Alzheimer's-induced fog. Moments of clarity and then *poof* just gone. It always seemed to happen at the most quiet, unexpected times, too. And yes, it was a relief (in a sad, sick way) when the clarity left completely.
I envy my sister for having so many memories of who our grandmother was. You're doing right by your boys to keep those memories alive.

Melissa said...

Oh Lisa. That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing something so personal. That moment of clarity she had with you was absolutely heartbreaking. I can't even imagine.

And she really is beautiful. I can tell you from someone who didn't - you were lucky to have a talented and loving grandmother like her. I'm sorry that your kids can't know that same person.

Lots of love.