by Sr. Fiat Marie, SV
My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease from the time I was 3 years old until her death while I was in college. Despite the fact that I have no memories of my grand – mother without dementia, experiencing her love and having the chance to love her in return has been one of the most formative events of my life.
Our extended family is blessed in that most everyone lives relatively close by each other. Because of this, many of us were able to share in my grandma’s care: and so too in the graces that flowed from it! Grandma would spend one or two days during the week with us, and often she would stay over on the weekends. We would share a room when she spent the night. I remember telling her how afraid I was of the dark. She instruct – ed me to simply say the name of Jesus when I felt anxious, advice I follow to this day!
Since Grandma’s illness lingered for so many years, she experienced all the different symptoms and stages of Alzheimer’s. There were joys and sorrows, and the initial stages were difficult. We struggled and stumbled along the way as we tried to navigate and weather the storms of her fear, anxiety, and frustrations. I learned a lot during this time from watching the love of my mom and other family members. They were with her exactly where she was and didn’t give in to the temptation to try to force her into being who they remembered her to be. We learned not to limit love to the narrow confines of what we imagined it to be and not to be too rigid in our expectations of others. I learned to see life as a gift.
My grandma definitely gave me the sense of humor I have today. She would get us into so many crazy and embarrassing situations! Once, we got a call from our neighbors who lived half a mile down the dirt road at 5 a.m. “Your mom is here,” they said, “and she has a pound of bologna in her purse!” Another time, we were at Mass, and the priest said, “Let us pray,” and then paused. Grandma was particularly antsy that day and thought the priest was taking too long. So she yelled back, “Well then … LET US!” All we could do was smile at the priest!
No matter what was going on with Grandma, she never lost the capacity to love and to be loved. The lasting image that I have of her is that she was a “ball of love”! Toward the end of her life, she lost the ability to really have a conversation. But we would just snuggle up to her on the couch, and she would smother us with kisses.
I remember being very struck at her funeral. I was looking around at all of my family, especially at my 18 cousins, and it was evident how missed Grandma was. I thought that if the world looked at this situation it might expect our family to feel the relief of a long burden of care that was finally lifted, yet that was so far from our experience. I realized then, that, if I would have been denied the ability to be with my grandma in all the ups and downs of this disease then I would have been denied also of one of the most meaningful experiences of love in my life.
Throughout all of her life my grandma prayed for the grace of final perseverance. I marvel at how even deep in the throes of dementia she still voiced this petition. I am certain God gave her the grace to be faithful to the end. God used her illness to prepare her heart for Him, and He used her life and love to transform mine.