This beauty is my grandma, Elsie Mae Collier.
She was the type of lady I've always fallen short of being: refined, classy, fashionable, perpetually pulled-together. She was from an era where your outfit wasn't complete without stockings and heels. She always wore lipstick. Her nails were always filed into perfect ovals. In fact, she was a onetime beauty queen. But even more than that, she had grit. She got a college degree and had a career in a time when most women hoped only to marry a wealthy man. She carried on after tragically losing both of her sons within six months of each other. She loved my grandfather for sixty-five years.
One of my last memories of her life is of my grandpa, shuffling as fast as he could down the hallway of the nursing home, trying to catch her. "I don't know where Elsie is," he told my mom and I worriedly, "but here are her pants."
We laughed at the time, because the laughter helps you to deal with the sad reality that this really happened. This once-vibrant, capable, sharp-witted woman - who once would never have left the house without lipstick and jewelry - was now wandering the halls of a nursing home with no pants on.
Her dignity was just one of the many things that Alzheimer's Disease stole from her. And I watched it all unfold, a heartbreaking end to a beautiful life.
It started when Grandma suddenly forgot how to use her washing machine - the same one she'd been using for years. She called my mom at work, frantic. From there, it got progressively worse: once, she tried to reheat a bucket of fast-food chicken on the stovetop, setting the kitchen on fire. My mom, her only surviving child, was always on the edge, fraught with worry, checking on her parents incessantly. Finally there was no escaping the fact that they just couldn't live on their own any longer.
Once in a nursing home, Grandma's sad decline seemed to speed up. She forgot who we were most of the time. She sometimes treated my grandpa - the man she'd been married to for six and a half decades - like she didn't know him at all. She had horrible nightmares and hallucinations, and was scared all the time. Every face became a stranger. And gradually, as her brain gave up its memories one by one, it also forgot its most basic instincts: to tell her body to breathe, her heart to beat.
Alzheimer's took more than her dignity. It took her personality, her sense of safety. It took her life.
I can't help but think that she was once a woman just like you and me. A mother, a lover, busy living and working. And then it all eroded away into a horrifying oblivion.
I saw how my mother struggled to care for her mother, how she worried and fretted and still had to helplessly stand by because there was no good treatment option. And now, my mother is getting older. So far she's still the same Mom I've always known, but Alzheimer's is hereditary. Will she get it? Will I?
My cousin Samantha is raising money for the Alzheimer's Association in honor of her grandmother, Mary Ancell, whose life was also cruelly ended by this horrible disease - and in honor of her mother, Judy, who cared tirelessly for Mary until her own tragic and unexpected death this past January. This is obviously a cause that's near and dear to my heart, for so many reasons. Sam's goal is to raise $300 by October 7th; at the time of this post, she's at $65.
We need your help. Please.
If you click on this link, it'll take to you Samantha's official fundraising page. On the right side of the page, you'll see a "Donate" button. If everyone who reads my blog donates just one dollar, we would far surpass our goal. If you've got a dollar (or five or ten or fifty!) to spare, please consider tossing it in this virtual hat I'm passing around. Do it for the millions suffering from the ravaging effects of Alzheimer's Disease - and for the caregivers who love them. Every cent will help the Alzheimer's Association in funding research and support, so that maybe - someday - no one will ever have to watch their parent or grandparent suffer through this horrible disease. Or, heaven forbid, go through it themselves.
Also, my sister Michelle has partnered with Sam to offer a special deal on Tupperware at this link. If you buy some Tupperware, 40% of the proceeds go toward Sam's cause. Woohooo! Tupperware and altruism - what a rad combo.
Again: here's the link to Sam's Alzheimer's Association Fundraising Page. If you've got a minute and a dollar, you can help us out.
It'll give you a dose of good karma. But also? This could possibly save me from someday wandering the halls with no pants on, y'all.
Do it. Please!