Grandma: I now have what you call “muffins”.
Grandma: My stomach is blubbery and turned into muffins.
Me: Do you mean a “muffin top”? You have a muffin top?
Grandma: Yes, I have muffins.
I speak to my grandmother almost every day and typically an exchange like the one above happens every time I talk to her. Our conversations are never boring. My favorite is when she asked me how my “blah” was doing. You know, that thing I’m writing this post on right now? I’m extremely close to my grandmother and the past few months have been challenging for all of us. She broke her back in multiple places and refused to take painkillers and her live-in boyfriend of twelve years, Lionel, is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. The excruciating pain mixed with Grandma’s belief that Lionel is acting forgetful to spite her made her a raging bitch for awhile. Now the pain has subsided and she can walk vertically, but Lionel’s Alzheimer’s is not getting better. I guess we all secretly think it will stop or regress and we’re constantly surprised when it gets a little worse.
Lionel won’t stop buying ice cream.
Grandma will send him to the grocery store one mile away to pick up milk or broccoli and he’ll come back three hours later with three gallons of ice cream and nothing else.
“I can’t fit anything else in my freezer!” my grandma explains to me. “It’s full of ice cream!”
Recently, Grandma sent Lionel to the store to buy potatoes and he came back with a pumpkin pie. Sweets make Lionel happy and he eats them all of the time. He also sleeps all of the time. Needless to say Lionel is getting F-A-T.
I asked Grandma if Lionel is depressed and she says that when she asks Lionel if he’s depressed, he says “no”. However, the doctors say he’ll get depressed. And he’ll get frustrated. And he’ll get angry. And he’ll get confused.
And all of those things have happened.
“You should have heard him swearing at me earlier today!” my grandmother tells me. “He sounded like a sailor! You sounded like a sailor, Lionel!”
I hear the familiar baritone of Lionel’s laughter in the background.
When I talk to Lionel on the phone he seems happy. Truthfully, he sounds 100% normal. The only way I know something is wrong is when my grandmother tells me he drives across the street, parks his car in the church parking lot and falls asleep on a near daily basis. Or when he goes to the dry cleaners around the corner and comes back at 6:30PM at night. Or when the doctors tell my grandmother it’s only going to get worse and there will come a point where she can’t take care of him anymore.
Yesterday, my mother told me that Lionel’s five sons are talking about putting him in a home. The oldest and wealthiest son wants to put Lionel in a home close to him in Vermont- where our fear is that few will come to visit Lionel. Lionel’s two adopted sons want to put him in a home in central New York which is close to everyone (two sons in Vermont, one son in Boston, one in Syracuse, one in New Jersey and my family in central New York). The adopted sons don’t even want to put him in a home, but they understand that the time to do so is getting closer. I don’t think any of us have come to terms with the idea yet. Yes, Lionel was a huge pain in the ass before he got ill and yes, my family (Grandma included) never really liked Lionel, but we grew to love him. Though life without Lionel will be easier, it will not be as full…and I’m dreading the day he won’t recognize any of us.
If you want to get to know Grandma and Lionel, watch a video I made about them here.
Have you had personal experiences with Alzheimer’s?
In 2009, about a month before my Grandfather passed away from cancer, he decided that it was time for my grandma to go to a home. She suffers from Dementia, they don't know if it is progressing to Alzheimer's, but that is likely the case.
She doesn't know who any of us are. She knows that my Aunt (her oldest daughter) is a really nice lady that takes her out to see and meet new people.. the new people being all of us in her big family.
On the plus side, she is extremely healthy in every other way. She walks all the time and enjoys living at the home.
She still gives us good laughs over the silly things she says, like the time we lifted up her chair and she thought she was actually flying, we take silly pictures with her and just enjoy our time with her in general.
Yes, it is extremely hard and very sad and it absolutely breaks my heart to see my dad so upset about his mother. But, you love, cherish and appreciate every moment you have that they are communicating and look happy.
I hope the best for you and youre family. You all will be in my thoughts.
I grew up living with my single mom and her parents. Every week, grandma took us to go window shopping and lunch at Luby's with her sister, my Aunt Esther. I always called her Tia Esther and she called me her purple cheerleader- purple was my favorite color. She spoiled me rotten, always fought with grandma over paying the bill at Luby's, and loved us like we were her own grandchildren. She got Alzheimer's when I was about 13 and was in a home by the time I was 16. She died a few years ago, and it still brings tears to my eyes to this day. It was hard to lose her twice- once to the disease and once again to death. Stay strong Lauren- my warm thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
This was poignant and funny and i think it's awesome you are documenting it. I wish i would have documented my grandpa's last few years (and descent into alzheimer's), because as hard as it was, he was such a character and there were many great moments too, stuff you will want to remember and hold on to.
I don't have any experiences with the disease, but we recently considered sending my grandma to a home after my grandpa died a few months ago. She is okay for a 88 year old lady, but needs to have someone living with her. After consideration she decided to stay at home with her things. I always find the thought of old people's homes a bit heartbreaking, and there is absolutely no easy way to deal with this type of problem when it comes.
@Ella- That's the hard thing. Watching your parents forget you. Ugh. I can't even imagine. I feel for you and your father. I'm glad your grandma is healthy and seems happy. Thank you for sharing your story with me!
@Cathy- Thank you, Cathy. I appreciate your wonderful messages through this. Your aunt sounded like a wonderful woman! P.S. I grew up with a single mom too. Single moms rock!
@Jdel- Thanks. I think more people than we think are effected by this disease and I think it's good if people talk about it. I saw an art video recently that a woman made of her father who couldn't remember how to make the bed. Everyone was weeping while watching it. It was heartbreaking, but I'm glad she made it.
@Andrea- I agree. Just reading your comment made me sad. To think of old people living in a house alone, watching TV all day, no longer able to drive…and how terrible it is that some people treat them like shit. And we'll all be there one day! 🙁
Just this last year, I was living with my grandma and her daughter, watching grandma die from alzheimer's. It was a really difficult experience, requiring patience and a sense of humor, which were fortunately on hand. She never did get angry or mean (apparently not everyone does), but she would think funny things, like that I was the hired help.
In the end she was mostly sleeping all the time, and it was hard to convince her to eat. She had very poor quality of life, but seemed not to be in too much distress. She was such a wonderful and vibrant lady, traveled the world, raised loads of amazing children. I was sad when she died, but really, the person who she was died long before her body gave up.
It's so difficult, I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.
For us Hispanos, we NEVER think of putting our parents in a home. It's just very unheard of in our culture. My parents are 49, and I am preparing myself for the day my Mom or Dad (maybe both!) may have to move in with me. You'd think I'd freak out, but nope. I giddily tell my Mom about how I'll dress her up all pretty when she's old and frail, to which she'll reply "I hope I'm dead by then." lawlz
My grandparents (my Dad's parents) have both passed away in the past 3 years. My grandfather from prostate cancer and my grandmother from Alzheimer's, diabetes and a plethora of other ailments. Since they had 13 children, it was easy for them to move from one kid to another. You'd think they'd have a problem, but turns out, they had a goldfish's memory (or probably not enough fight in them). When my Abuelita came to stay with us for a few months, I was in charge of taking care of her as my Mom already had my disabled sister to care for. I had fun with my Abuelita. I tried not to laugh AT her, but she really never laughed WITH me, so it felt like I was. I remember how stubborn she'd get about wanting a shower, so from the moment I'd get her water and clothes ready, I'd come back to a naked grandma in the living room. What was I gonna do? Freak out? Giggles were all you heard out of me those days.
The days following up to their deaths (they both passed away in my oldest aunt's house here in Austin) were days of sharing moments we've had and caring for them. I'm glad to say they both passed away in their sleep and surrounded with every single child and grandchild…
Having experienced what I have with my own grandparents, I'd like to think I'm prepared for it for when it happens to my own parents. Guess we'll find out when that ship arrives.
My thoughts are with Lionel. As long as his children and friends are nearby, I'm sure he'll be fine. It's a struggle, but it's tolerable with patience, love, kindness and a little bit of sense of humor 🙂
This is all at once heartwarming and heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing a little bit of your grandparents with the world. Sending you and your family love as you navigate this new period of your relationship.
I haven't personally lost anyone to Alzheimers but we did have to put my nan in a home a few years ago. It was hard. She didn't want to go but she could no longer take care of herself and mum and dad had barely enough room for themselves, let alone nan. I tried to see her as often as I could but, unfortunately, they're depressing places and you just want to get out of there asap. We took her out a few times but it just wasn't the same. She died when we were overseas. I've definitely decided that, if I have to go into a home, then having Alzheimers – and it sounds cruel – may be the best thing. We really have no idea how to take care of our older generation.
My Lionel sounds a lot like my step dad. We ultimately had to keep him from driving his car. When he refused to give up the keys, we removed the coil wire. Everyone was a lot safer that way.
We never completely lost him… until he died. He could best be described as confused. He was able to live at home until just after my mom died, but that was because there was some help for mom mom because of her osteoporosis. She had spinal fractures, too.
Lord knows what dad would have brought back from the store if he was sent 😉
@Susan- I agree. It seems like a terrible death sentence. I guess the only solace in Alzheimers is that they stop understanding what is happening to them. I had an uncle with Parkinson's which is the reverse- your body falls apart, but your brain is just fine. Talk about terrible! Ugh. He would cry all the time due to frustration.
@Trina- Thank you for sharing your story. I often think about that, how in other countries/cultures you stick by your family through health and ill-health. I miss the days when people stayed in the family business, didn't move far from home, and still had family dinners every weekend. I miss being near my family. I know for one thing though- I'd never put my folks in a home. I just need to start making more money…
@Kelsey- Thanks for stopping by, Kelsey! I was telling my grandma about your blog last night and am going to try a couple of recipes this weekend! The match muffins and the fig cookies!
@Tennyson- It's true and it's sad. I try not to think about it, but the truth is, we'll ALL be effected with these questions… :/
@IT- You know, it's getting to the point where we might have to do the same thing. Lionel was a terrible driver to begin with, now he gets lost and falls asleep (not while driving, but while parked). It scares me to think about it!
I know what you're going through. My grandpa had Alzheimer's.One day he brought home about 6lbs of fresh blueberries for no reason. When he passed away we discovered he had been hoarding postage stamps (part of his legacy – besides being an awesome grandpa is that I've barely had to go to the post office in the past 5 years!). However, seeing someone go through that – no matter what- is heartbreaking.
This was a great yet difficult read. I find myself in the same position with my grandmother. She can't drive, but when she has to go out, she won't stop buying yarn. Her den at the house is filling up with half finished projects and tub after tub of yarn. Couple that with the fact that my grandfather is in bad shape, and we're now faced with the task of deciding what to do. It's hard to see the two people who are the rock of your family fall apart in front of you. The best thing we can do is take care of our elders as best we can.
This post struck a chord with me. You put into words so many things I've been thinking lately. My great grandma, my ninny, suffered from dementia that slowly progressed to severe Alzheimer's for a while. All of my Dad's family lives in Arkansas so I did not get to see them very often growing up, but when I attended UALR for my first two years of college I got to see my ninny a lot. It was always bittersweet seeing her though because I was always "that girl" anytime she would refer to me. Because I had not seen her very much growing up before dementia took over her mind I was not cemented into her memory, and thus was forgotten. My grandma (who is in her 60s) stuggled over the past 2 years trying to take care of my ninny, despite the urges from the younger generation in my family that my ninny should be placed in a care facility. It's not that we don't care about ninny, but we could see the toll it was taking on my grandma. My grandma couldn't sleep through a whole night because she had to go check and make sure my ninny was still in bed periodically through the night, and other stuff. It was slowly draining the life out of my grandma caring for my ninny. I'm actually really sad to say that my ninny just passed away a week ago. While it saddens me that she has passed away, I'm also happy that she is now in a better place where I'm sure all her memories are back with her.
[…] of you may remember Lionel, my grandma’s partner of many years. Last I wrote about him, he had Alzheimer’s and was living in a care facility. Lionel died three weeks ago, the day […]