His condition seemed to progress even faster now that he had moved to a new location. The doctors said that it was common among Alzheimer’s patients to digress after a move or big change in their lifestyle. Consistency and familiarity were always best for Alzheimer’s disease patients.
Eventually we traded in our walks for bird watching on the porch, watching “The Toy” or “Shakiest Gun in the West”, or sitting and talking about the past. It was getting increasingly difficult to leave grandpa alone at all because he would wander off and not remember how to get back, where he was, or where he was going. He scared us a couple of times when he wandered off inside Wal-mart or wandered away from home. Luckily he was always making friends so we would find him at the neighbors or chatting to a complete stranger about motors and transmissions.
The first semester of my junior year of high school, I got a call from grandma that my grandpa had fallen in the living room floor and she was unable to get him up off the floor. I rushed over on my bike as soon as I could. If you have never witnessed a very strong man, your hero, lying helpless on the floor, I know your pain. It is the scariest feeling in the world, a time of realization, and saddens the soul very quickly. I managed, somehow, to pull myself together, fight back the tears and somehow lifted him from the floor. Once he calmed down, he managed to tell me he wasn’t hurting anywhere and he just missed his chair when he went to sit down. That moment was when I really began to fear for his health and safety. Grandma was getting to the point where she couldn’t do much either and neither one of them were eating healthy at all. That scare led to yet another transition in my grandfather’s life.
My Aunt and Uncle ended up moving my grandparents to Indiana shortly after that episode. Once again, my best friend was gone. It was easier for them to care for grandma and grandpa because they were both retired, which meant they had a lot of time to care for them. So grandpa was, once again, uprooted from everything familiar. He went to live in a city for the first time in his life, in an apartment complex with multiple floors, with the same décor on every floor. Needless to say a few months later he was put into the local nursing home. It was impossible for him to find anything that looked familiar, so he wandered off continually. Shortly after moving to the nursing home, my grandfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which was progressing much faster than his Alzheimer’s Disease. We had a new worry to contend with.
I made it thru the rest of my Junior year of high school and the summer before my senior year I got a call… the dreaded phone call. The nursing home said that grandpa didn’t have a whole lot of time left and that he had been asking to see me. My dad and I drove out to Indiana almost immediately. He stayed the weekend, but had to return to work the following Monday, I decided to stay for the remainder of the week, since it was summer break, I didn’t have a lot of other things going on and seeing grandpa was what I wanted for my birthday.
I will never forget that day, I walked into the nursing home hoping to be greeted with a huge smile and a hug from a man dressed in overalls and a flannel long sleeve shirt, what I have actually seen broke my heart. My grandpa’s head hung to the floor, he looked a little medicated. He was dressed in boxer shorts and a wife beater T-shirt, he looked incredibly thin and frail. For the first time in my life I was seeing my grandfather half naked in front of a crowd. I looked at his arms, where he once had muscle, there was drooping skin and a tattoo. My grandpa had a tattoo? Looking a little closer, I realized it was a tattoo of a woman, a woman who was not my grandma. Well, that explained why he never showed his arms. Tears filled my eyes, I choked them back trying to hold it together for my grandpa. I know he never wanted me to see him that way. He mustered up the strength to hold his head up and to my amazement he recognized me. He couldn’t remember my name but he did the same pat on his knee that meant I was supposed to climb on his lap and give him a hug. I had been warned by my aunt and uncle not to expect too much, after all grandpa barely recognized grandma anymore, so I was surprised to see that he recognized me. I walked close to him and he grabbed me and hugged me tight. We talked for a bit, I did most of the talking because by this point either his cancer or the Alzheimer’s Disease wouldn’t allow him to communicate well. After a short while, It was time for him to get some rest. The nurses came in to lay him down for the evening and the family was asked to leave.
That was the last time I ever saw my hero. One month after my birthday, a week after I had returned home on the grey hound, he was gone. The cancer had spread its course and it was time for me to return to Indiana for the worst day of my life. His Funeral! On August 17, 2000 my life changed in a way I never could have imagined. I look back now and I am so grateful for the time we had together. His words of wisdom and the memories we shared together have gotten me through the toughest times in my life. He taught me so many lessons, some lessons that I never even knew he was teaching. He has taught me to love wholeheartedly because you never know what tomorrow will bring, you may never get a second chance to say things left unsaid, never take people who are dear to you for granted because time here on this earth is short and every day is a new page waiting to be written. I carry him with me wherever I go, whatever I do, he is always with me.
(1) National Institute on Aging (NIH)“Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet” September 2012.
To find out more information on Alzheimer’s Disease check out the following resources:
Alzheimer’s Foundation of America