My grandpa was always that person who would talk your ear off for hours about essentially nothing. He was a Korea/Vietnam veteran, and probably the most proud at that. Growing up, I couldn’t even tell you how many army stories he rambled on to me about. It wasn’t just me either. He would talk to anyone who would listen. I’ll never forget the time he ordered me and my cousins pizzas and then spent what felt like forever on the front porch telling the delivery man all about his war days. We used to joke that the poor guy probably got fired for taking too long with the delivery. Nonetheless, he was proud that he had fought for our country. It was an incredible honor for him to have served as Command Sargent Major, and I was always proud of him for that.
Looking back now, I wish I had spent more time listening to him tell these stories, no matter how boring they may have gotten. I wish as a teenager I had realized how limited my time with him was.
As only a sophomore in high school, he began to change. Slowly, dementia took the grandpa I knew away. He was no longer talkative and barely remembered who I was. Sometimes we would laugh at his forgetfulness, but for the most part, it was painful knowing that I would never get the man I knew back. Eventually, I began to adjust to his changes. He lived with Alzheimer’s for four years before passing away in March of 2015. When he passed away, I struggled with losing him because it had felt like I had lost him a long time ago. It was comforting knowing that he would now be reunited with my grandma and that he could finally go to a place where he didn’t have to suffer anymore.
One of the most difficult things about loving someone with Alzheimer’s is trying to remember them as the person they were before the disease. I have a lot of great memories with my grandpa. We spent countless summers camping in the trailer my grandparents owned. He taught me lots of things, like how to fish and throw a baseball. My grandma and him were married for 61 years, and I always admired them for that. He may be gone now, but that doesn’t mean we have to forget the amazing man that he was.
Every 67 seconds, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It is an awful, terrible disease. The hard part is, it takes your loved ones away from you years before they actually pass away. What I wouldn’t give to have those last four years back with the grandpa I remember. Or to have taken in every moment with him when I was younger. Although I won’t what took him away, for it now is a cause close to my heart. I will also choose to remember him as the man he was and not as the disease that changed him.
This year, as I walk in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Kokomo for the third year in a row with my Sigma Kappa sisters, I will be holding a purple flower, rather than a yellow one, signifying that my loved one with Alzheimer’s has passed away. In his memory, I hope to raise money for the walk. Please help me out by donating to my Walk to End Alz Page!