My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when she was just 68 years old. I remember the months leading up to the diagnosis as a time of anxiety for the entire family. She had always been a little bit forgetful and spacey – but that was just her; “goofy grandmother,” as we would call her. We thought that perhaps in her old age, those endearing characteristics were simply becoming more and more apparent. But when the diagnosis was made after several instances of confusion and loss of memory, our hearts sank.
It’s been ten years since that diagnosis, and it’s difficult to think about how much the disease has changed her. Her life had always been so rich – a real love-story with her husband, an accomplished career, four children, eight grandchildren, life-long friends. She was about to embark on the good years her and my grandfather so deserved together. And then she got sick and their lives had to adjust.
Alzheimer’s is not something that you can prepare yourself for, which is one of the terrible realities of the disease; it’s extremely unpredictable. Once the diagnosis has been made, you can’t know exactly how it will affect the person and what the timeline will be. Their behavior, their memory, their worlds are slowly taken from them. It’s incredibly cruel. As a loved one of someone suffering with Alzheimer’s, it’s hard to tell if you are saying the right thing, doing what is best or loving in the way they need. Altogether, it is a very lonely disease for everyone.
I had been living in California up until this year – and because my Grandmother lived here in Chicago, I would only see her once or twice a year for very short periods of time. When I spent time with her, I felt like she couldn’t relate to or connect with the relationship we had. I think I saw her only for what the disease had taken away. I saw everything she had lost and it would make me very sad.
But now that I live in Chicago, I have the privilege of seeing her all the time and it is such a gift! I see her now as everything she is in this present moment. Although she is a different person, she is a beautiful person to me. She is warm, sweet, charming and has one of the quickest wits! She feels like Grandma, again. When we spend time together, it’s usually just the two of us, and I treasure every second.
Discovering that I can still have a relationship with my grandmother, despite the Alzheimer’s, has meant so much to me. I think people have a tendency to feel uncomfortable or afraid around the disease – I know that I did. But despite the fact that this isn’t the life or state of mind I would ever want for her, I have learned to embrace it, and it’s been an extremely valuable life lesson for me.
Kalyn Chomko, Community Relations Coordinator