‘She’d walk into a room and shout, ‘Grammy’s here, have no fear!’ The woman was a force! Anywhere she went, she was the center of attention.’: Woman shares ode to fierce grandma battling Alzheimer’s

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“Gram is a woman of tremendous love, unwavering faith, and a barrel of fun! Gram is pretty much a celebrity between Tampa, FL and Clinton, NJ as she has been involved in all four of her grandkids’ lives, thus meeting everyone around us. Everyone loves Gram! She would always walk into a room and shout, ‘Grammy’s here, have no fear!’ She even has a bag that says this! It is 100% her slogan!

Courtesy of Christina Rivera

Gram was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s many moons ago, but she began showing symptoms after her mother died (at 103!) about five years ago. Gram would visit her mom every day and help feed her up until the day she passed. Gram was also heavily involved in her local church and surrounded herself with a community over the years. Following the death of her mother, she moved from her apartment to a condo about an hour north to be closer to her daughter. We all believed this was a good move as my aunt would be closer to her when she was showing small signs of her disease process. Looking back now, I truly believe so many changes so quickly really was the catalyst for her. In a year she lost her mom, lost her church family, and lost the friends she would frequently go out with.

Courtesy of Christina Rivera

Gram lived alone in her condo for years, I would call her multiple times a day because she is just that entertaining to talk to. We would talk about nothing really, just sing and laugh, but they were always my favorite phone calls. She would constantly tell me to, ‘Marry the books!’ I have saved all her voicemails and find myself listening to them more frequently than ever. It feels like I’ve lost her already, even though she’s fifteen minutes away. Bittersweet memories of what she was once capable of. If we only knew we were in the good ole’ days while going through them.

She would visit Florida often and that’s when it was just her and I! Gram was my favorite wingwoman. She would never ask questions about where we were going, she just blindly went with all my plans. We would go out day drinking (we’ve had too many Guinness’ together), we would dance to any music playing anywhere, we would walk by the water, and she would wear my clothes. She’s hiked the forest in Puerto Rico, we’ve been to adult stores together (sorry mom!), we’ve had hundreds of Mani/Pedi dates, and we’ve done shots together. I’ve taken her to school with me and I’ve taken her to work meetings. She was there when I was engaged, she’s walked for breast cancer, we’ve gone on a road trip to Miami, she’s gone internet viral, and we’ve made so many dancing videos in my car it’s unreal! And those are things she’s done just with me! The woman is a force! Anywhere she went, she was the center of attention – just how she liked it. I don’t know what we haven’t done together at this point!

Courtesy of Christina Rivera
Courtesy of Christina Rivera

Sadly, the last three years we’ve seen a decline. First it was her memory, as typical Alzheimer’s likes to rob first. Then the disease slowly took away her ability to form coherent sentences, but we always somehow understood each other; love has a way of filling in the gaps. As time has progressed, her speech has been robbed from us and she has become a shell of who she once was. A once strong, independent travel-loving woman now requires the assistance of many hands to get through the day.

Gram was one of the first people to know I was pregnant because 1) who better to keep a secret and 2) I wanted to see if she would understand. I was so thrilled to witness her reaction, just the two of us in my car like so many wonderful moments we’ve had. Although it was short lived and she wasn’t able to articulate a sentence, there’s this special moment you can see in her eyes, just a split second, where it really does click. This is the moment I long for. The moment where for even just a second you get them back, or it feels like she’s there with you not only physically but mentally as well. The video will forever bring a smile to my face.

I don’t remember the exact moment Gram didn’t remember me anymore and it’s probably a blessing because I don’t think my heart could handle having that as a memory forever. The day of this video, Gram wasn’t feeling well and she was hospitalized a few days later. I had picked her up and after our fifteen-minute project of getting into the car, I played one of her favorite songs, ‘Remember Me’ from the movie Coco. Gram and I watched it in theaters the last day it was still playing a few years ago, so it was just her and I bawling our eyes out at the end. That whole day she would repeatedly say, ‘Family is number one!’ For years that followed, anytime the song would play she would start crying. But the day of this video she didn’t. I was met with a blank stare and glossy eyes. It was one of those moments where you start to sob because it’s one more little piece of her the disease has decided to take away.

People say Alzheimer’s is the hardest because you lose them twice, but that’s a lie. Alzheimer’s is the hardest because you lose them hundreds of times each and every day, with each and every moment that they are still earth bound until they’re not. I can’t explain how much I miss my Gram. I miss hanging out with her, I miss her VOICE, I miss her LAUGH. I miss how dang crazy she was and I just miss her overall spirit. You could not be sad around Gram, it was impossible. I think most of my friends on social media follow me because of her!

Courtesy of Christina Rivera

Something I regret… when Gram was younger and still traveling the world, she would always pick up rocks from countries she visited and would write on them where it came from and the year. As a kid, you think it’s silly and wonder why you can’t have the grandma who gets you something better. I WISH I would have kept these rocks. Gram went everywhere – Poland, Greece, Jerusalem, Spain, Italy, just to name a few. She always said she wanted to go on a cruise with me to Greece with no boys allowed! I can just picture her now scouring the land for rocks to bring back for us and it makes my heart smile. What’s funny about this is when my husband and I traveled to Europe last year, I too found myself looking for rocks to send to family members. Funny the things you cherish with some age on you. Perspective is a wonderful thing.

To anyone going through this disease with a loved one, you are not alone and I understand your frustration and desperation. The incredible amount of patience and love you must have to move forward with a loved one is immeasurable. We are a very loving Cuban family, so even making the decision to ask for outside help was difficult all around; you question yourself and hope you are making the right decision. It has been difficult for my mom and especially for my aunt, who had been taking care of Gram the last few years in her home. I’ll always remember driving my aunt to the airport after leaving Gram at the group home and the love of a daughter for her mother is something so incredibly strong.

Courtesy of Christina Rivera

When Covid hit, all of Gram’s daily activities were halted. No more senior center, no more errands, no more outside human interaction. You don’t think of the damage that does to someone until you start piecing together how things got so bad so fast. Covid has done so much damage we have yet to acknowledge and our elderly are truly suffering because of this.

Gram now lives in Florida and we’re fortunate enough that she lives in a wonderful group home with the most incredible caretakers who love Gram and think she’s as cute as we all do. I’m thankful I have the ability to take her out, though it is much more difficult these days because she is weak. I imagine people think we’re crazy when we take her out because we’re loud, we sing to her, we dance for her – we do anything we think will get her to eat, say something, or just smile. My hope is people look at my family with loving eyes and instead of seeing an obnoxiously loud family, they see one full of strong love and a desperate desire to get their Gram back, even if just for a moment. It’s exhausting physically and mentally, but those moments are invaluable. I hope if you see us or a family like us out, your first thought is, ‘What a lucky family to have THAT MUCH love for each other.’ Because I tell you what, when the party’s over and the music cuts and the dancing stops it’s all we have – just love. And thank God that’s enough.”

To all the caregivers and loved ones of those suffering from the disease that takes them away ever so slowly. To those who don’t know whether to smile that we still have them or cry because we don’t really have them: I pray you find a little extra patience today and you move forward knowing your decisions are not easy ones to make, but you are doing the best you can. I pray you have your moment with them where you see it in their eyes that they are there, just buried beneath a hell of a disease. Just know the disease may take away a lot of their ability to do things, but I firmly believe Gram KNOWS we love her. And at this point, that’s all I need.”

Courtesy of Christina Rivera

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Christina Rivera of Tampa, FL. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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