It’s interesting how when life happens, the last thing that you care about is being funny.
These past few weeks have have been challenging on many fronts. Most particularly because the only man that I’ve known as a grandfather, the man who was most consistently rooted in my life, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease recently.
And though it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, it always is, isn’t it?
You overlook that turn down the wrong street to get home, or the repetition of a story that you’ve heard a hundred times before, brushing it off as simply old age. Nothing to worry about. However, when Grandma told me last week that Lionel informed the doctors that the year was 1999, the depth of reality finally sunk in.
I asked Grandma to put me on the phone with him. I needed to hear the Lionel I was used to. The jokey Lionel, the little kid Lionel, the man I always brush off when teasing me about something or other. “Oh Lionel, you’re crazy! Put Grandma on the phone!” Lionel was a noodge; the sort of guy you really didn’t like, but you kind of loved.
Grandma put him on the phone and I waited with baited breath for the husky, excitable voice to come over the line, but it never came. Instead I heard someone I didn’t recognize. Something broken. It was the voice of a man who deep down understands his fate but is unwilling to acknowledge it. Who would? Who wants to say to themselves, “I am forgetting my life”?
We exchanged a few pleasantries and he quickly handed the phone back to my Grandmother.
How did this happen? It was only four months ago that I saw him and he was fit as ever. Still going to the gym five days a week, still slapping Grandma’s ass, still sneaking into the freezer to down a gallon of ice cream.
“Grandma, is he still slapping your ass?” I asked her.
“No… I feel so bad.” She said. My Grandmother absolutely despised how Lionel teased her, but I could tell for the first time, she missed it.
We all miss it.
Lionel Fleischer was born in 1927 to a Jewish clothing retailer and his wife in Upstate New York. His father had a string of successful women’s department stores named Fleischer’s that was to be passed down to his only son. At 20 years of age, the spry and handsome Lionel managed a bevy of beautiful shopgirls at his father’s store, but was smitten by a young Gentile named Maryanne. The two quickly married and moved into a picture perfect house in an upper class neighborhood of Syracuse, NY, where they eventually welcomed three sons. However, the marriage didn’t come without it’s problems and Lionel sheepishly admits that he, “screwed around” on his wife. The couple divorced and Lionel spent the next couple of decades as a free agent, enjoying the success of his businesses, raising his sons, dating pretty ladies, and wearing quite possibly the ugliest hair piece that I’ve ever seen.
It was in the early 1980’s that Lionel’s life was to change. It was then that he met the beautiful Sandra and instantly fell in love. The two married and Lionel became a father figure to her two young sons. The couple’s ideal courtship came to a halt when the forty-something Sandy was diagnosed with cancer. Determined to save her, Lionel spent the better part of his savings making sure that Sandy got the best treatment possible. Unfortunately, after a long and difficult battle, she succumbed to the disease and forever left a giant hole in Lionel’s heart.
Many years went by and Lionel didn’t even think of dating another woman until he met a sassy Jewish lady that fell and broke her hip in the building that he owned. My Grandmother to this day still wears high heels and it was on that fateful day that her heel got stuck in an uprooted tile in our city marketplace. This caused her to break her hip and have her lifted out of the building by paramedics which embarrassed the living shit out of her. She sued Lionel for medical costs and he offered to take her out to dinner. My grandmother was skeptical, having heard that he was a sort of scheister, but she obliged anyways. They’ve now been together for fourteen years- through thick and thin. He became a part of my tiny family and there he has stayed. Loving my grandmother, my mother, and I the only way he knows how.
Now Lionel starts the next chapter of his life.
Oh dear this was such a heart-felt post that I truly enjoyed reading. My grandmother got diagnosed with dementia, which is a form of Alzheimer's so I completely understand. Her & I used to go to tag sales, berry picking, & so many other things but now I can see the change in her. She always goes to me, "Can you hear that?" but I never do. It's heart breaking, but all you can do is be there, make them smile, & cherish the memories you have with them & the ones to come. *hugs*
That was an amazing tribute to your grandfather. I hope that he has those fleeting moments where he feels like his old self. When those come you'll cherish them even more because it'll be like he's visiting for maybe the last time ever.
@Melanie- Thank you. I can't imagine how painful that is for you. I've never directly dealt with dementia/Alzheimer's, but I've known people with it. It's hard to wrap your brain around. That this can happen to us.
@Pizza Girl- Right now, he is depressed. It's obvious. I hope there is something that the doctor's can do to lift his spirits. It's so sad to see such a strong man so defeated. Thank you for your message.
Working with these people all the time, I see the heartache of what families go thru, but your post truly put a new perspective on this.
Great tribute to your grandfather. This is one tough disease and my heart goes out to you and your family. My grandfather passed away from Alzheimer's. And I have a sick feeling my mother is in the beginning phases. I agree with Melanie, cherish your moments with Lionel!
I'll keep you and Lionel in my (Gentile) thoughts and prayers. Even if Lionel gradually forgets his life, it is clear that you will not.
When my stepbrother and I were in our early teens, my stepdad took us on the backpacking trip from hell.
I his last days, about the only thing he remembered was that trip and he reminded us of it about every fifteen minutes.
Any time anyone in the family wants to get a laugh, they bring that up.
Such a beautiful love story of Lionel and your gran. I like reading about your family. My prayers are with you and family. *hugs*
Thank you for sharing this tribute to your grandfather. My paternal grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago. His wilting has been there though, declining through the years.
This disease takes you, but it is a theft done slowly; creating lost people. When he passes, we’ll be mourning two people, not one. The man he was and the man that he became with the illness.
My thoughts are with you and your family.
My beloved grandmother has dementia, it's slowly stealing her past from her. She can't remember things we tell her about, and it's heart breaking.
My thoughts are with you and your grandpa.
My grandparents are all long gone, but this post took me back to my last moments with them. It's sad (and scary) when the people we know and love become strangers to us and themselves. I wish I had cherished the times I spent with my grandparents more than I did, but alas, I was young, and I took them for granted. Thanks for sharing such a touching story. Be strong.
So sorry to hear this. What a beautifully written post.
This was a beautiful post.
I'm so sorry, I know how tough this can be. My grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and he passed away a few years ago. Words cannot describe how I felt when he couldn't recognize me anymore.
This gave me chills. I too had a grandfather with Alzheimer's and went through the painful years watching him forget the beautiful life he had built. Its so hard to see this happen to someone in your family, but what got me through it was the little things about him that remained unchanged- his smile, his mannerisms, his laugh- these are the things that stay with you.
I'm so sorry. I know what that realization is like, that… change.
Best wishes. If there's anything a relative [but caring] stranger can do, I hope you won't hesitate to ask.
You are an amazing storyteller. I feel like I can just sit at your feet and listen to you weave tales all day. But then you'll probably wonder why there's someone sitting at your feet and tell me to shoo, because you have things to do and please go away.
You know when you genuinely enjoy reading a post when the narrative plays like a movie in your head. I love how you showed your grandfather as an imperfect, yet loving man. It's painful to know what you're going through; my grandmother had … some sort of dementia. Unfortunately, I don't know exactly what she had, because my family is notoriously vague when it comes to embarrassing truths like this. She passed away recently, but I never really knew her, only her past. I think she only knew her past, too.
Here's to you, Lionel.
I'm so sorry, I can't even imagine how hard this must be for you and your family. It's so great that you gave your grandpa a tribute on your blog =)
so sad. Alzheimer's is the saddest part of life. my great grandpa had it and now my great grandma does =( she was a big part in raising me so it's been quite an adjustment
My mom has the early stages of it .
Wow, that gave me chills. So beautifully touching. My mum has worked with elderly people with dementia for about 20 years, nearly all my life. She always talks so lovingly about those people, and she cares about them a huge deal. She always says how sad it is that they do forget their present, but she speaks also about how they tend to live in happy period of their past (with partners that have passed, or something like that).
A big hug to you, love xo
Sorry to hear it, sweetie. Beautiful writing in this post. Hang in there.
I am so very sorry. This post is not only moving, but it is such good writing. I lost both grandparents before they could be affected by any form of senility. My heart is with you – and with Lionel and your grandmother.
Seeing a family memeber slip away mentaly is about as soul-crushing an experience as I can imagine. I see my Grandmother going through it right now. She's 91 years old, didn't recognize one of her neighbors a couple months back. They had been friends for over 15 years.
heartbreaking. my thoughts are best wishes are with you and Lionel and those who love him.
Thank you for sharing and I'm really sad for you and your family.
Wow, I couldn't even truly read this whole post. My grandmother (second most important woman in my life after my mother) has this disease & is in the very late stages now. My grandparents have always been the only stable thing in my life…
It definitely the hardest news to hear, worse than an actual death I've found. There's support out there for you. This was such a beautiful tribute though, I just feel rambly trying to say something appropriate…
Would love to correspond with a grandchild of Lionel; Lionel was a first cousin and we are putting together a Fleischer geneology.
Hi Madeline! I am not Lionel’s biological granddaughter, but he’s been my “grandfather” for the past 15 or so years. He is my grandmother’s significant other. I saw Lionel just a few weeks ago. Besides having Alzheimer’s, he’s doing pretty well. You can email me at laurenmodery at gmail dot com if you have any questions. I could put you in touch with any of is three biological sons or two adopted sons.