Appreciate every moment: lessons learned from Alzheimer’s

Watching a family member deal with a degenerative disease teaches one to appreciate the precious moments of life before they become memories.

Zurich Lewis, Writer

Over the weekend, I was flipping through the channels and saw “The Notebook” just about to start and thought “Oh, another Nicholas Sparks chick flick.” My girlfriend immediately protested and exclaimed that it was an amazing movie and I just had to see it. I, of course, relented and began watching an old man read an old lady the story of Noah and Allie. By the end of the film, I cried my heart out, not so much because of the heart-tugging tale’s conclusion and shocking revelation, but because it struck a chord with my personal life — it reminded me of my grandmother.

My grandmother suffers from dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to note the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s have distinct nuances — dementia describes the symptoms including memory loss and a degenerating thinking process while Alzheimer’s is the irreversible disease itself. Over the course of the last 10 years, she slowly began to forget her place in a conversation, what she did and what she just said, even though she can perfectly recount 50-year-old memories from her life in Cuba.

As the only child of an only child, it falls upon my mother, my grandfather and myself to take care of her and be there for her. She used to live in a city 30 miles west of here where she raised my mother and lived in for over 40 years. Just one year ago, they moved to La Mirada to be closer to us. As a result, it became much easier to be with them rather than calling. I go over there every single day, even if it is just for five minutes. In that time, I talk with both of them, eat dinner with them and have my home away from home.

While she may not want to talk all the time, there will be some days that she will tell me all about her time when she was a talented singer along with her sister in Camaguey, how she grew up with my grandfather and about the troubles of raising my mother. She has lived a long life at the age of 83, but soon she will not know that. Soon she will not know who her husband is. Soon she will not know who her daughter is. Soon I will be a stranger to the woman that left her family behind in Cuba and Florida to raise a daughter.

I thank my mother for reminding me everyday to go over and see them. I am blessed to be showered with their love and advice and I never take a single day for granted, because it could very well be my last. “Pa’lante y pa’lante. Pa’tras, ni coger impulso,” will always stick with me for the rest of my life. It is an old Cuban expression meaning “Always forward, do not go backwards, not even to gain momentum.” I pray that she continues to stay with us for many years so that I may read to her the amazing life that she, along with her husband, has built for our small family.

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