My Faded Warrior
As you may or may not know, I have moved around my whole life. I didn’t grow up around family and for me it was customary to see extended family about once a year. My mother and father divorced when I was 1 and when I was 5 years old, my father walked out of my life. However, his parents, aka – my grandma and grandpa – were a part of my life while I was growing up.
My grandma would send me cards and usually once a year I would go visit them at their house in Colorado. To me, it was a foreign concept to live in the same house for forever (to a kid 50 years is FOREVER), but that house was a “safe” zone. Somewhere I knew every nook and cranny. My grandfather passed away when I was 10 and I continued to visit my grandma – it was just the two of us for the few weeks that I would go and visit. After he passed anytime I visited I got to sleep in bed with my grandma, which made me happy.
We went to museums, pools and played my favorite game ‘fancy restaurant’ – where we would make paper menus and eat by candlelight. My grandma was not a lovey-dovey person, but she always did things with me. I remember she had this way of brushing her teeth at night (yup, my grandma still has her own teeth) that was FASCINATING, especially to me as a kid. It seemed to take forever and involved tons of different things – I clearly remember this because I would sit in the bathroom and watch her. She would answer my questions about what each thing was and what it did and why she did it that way. I loved it – to this day these are some of my most favorite memories.
Fast forward to being a too cool teenager and busy with school and a job – my visits became less frequent. We stayed in contact and she funded my early college days – which I took for granted at the time. I was too busy working overtime to try to pay the bills that I couldn’t be bothered to go to class – not when there was money to be made and I needed food. I ended up dropping out of college and she was so disappointed with me.
I got upset and defensive at the time. I told her that she didn’t understand, but that I was sorry to have disappointed her and wasted her money. I offered to pay her back, even if it took me the rest of my life I told her I would pay her back. And with that – she got off the phone. Unfortunately, my grandmother was the type of person that if she was upset with you – she would go years without speaking to you. That stubbornness seems to have trickled down the line because I had too much pride to call her either – I was more embarrassed that I had let her down more than anything.
As the years passed, life got busy with marriage, kids, relocating and everything else that comes with life. I reached out to my grandma when I was pregnant with my first child, but by that point her memory had already started to fade dramatically. She had the onset of Alzheimer’s taking over and couldn’t remember how I was related to her. I got off the phone in tears – kicking myself for letting so much time pass.
Then, I lost her. Not in the traditional sense of grieving the death of someone you love and have lost, but looking into her eyes and knowing that she has no idea who I am. When I tell her my name, I always give her my maiden name – hoping that will spark a connection with her memory that we have the same last name, she will repeat it. The same grandma voice that would call out to me to light the candle so we could play ‘fancy restaurant’ or tell me it was time for bed. However, it hits me like a dagger in my heart because the look in her eyes tells me that she’s gone. Once in a while there is a small glimmer of her in there – but after a few seconds she has disappeared again. The faded warrior.
Oh, how I wish that I could ask her about all her battles that she conquered. All the stories that they can’t tell you when you are a child about how they struggled and overcame things in their life. Lessons which I so desperately wish I could learn from her to apply to my own warrior journey. I do, however, know a few battles that she went through, but not from her perspective. She is a cancer survivor, both breast cancer and cancer nodules on her tailbone. She was mugged in her 60’s, knocked out in the parking lot of a grocery store in broad daylight. Her mother had Alzheimer’s as well, although I don’t know at what age.
Alzheimer’s can be such a painful disease for everyone involved. The person is aware in the beginning that their memory is fading, especially when they start to forget things like their children’s age or even name. Words get lost and can’t be found. Little things get forgotten and then the forgotten things seem to get bigger and bigger. The family lives with the pain of loss long before the person has actually passed away – for they look like themselves, sound like themselves and even smell like themselves, but they are absent.
I look into her faded warrior eyes and wish I could hear about these battles and stories. I know that I can’t look back with regret and sadness for what happened between us, but that is something that I still struggle with. I long to visit her more often, but when I see her sometimes the pain can be more than I can bare. I try not to cry in her presence, for she is so much like a child that doesn’t understand why you are sad. So, instead I sing to her and hold her hand. She is such a strong warrior without even knowing it. She is my faded warrior.
Life is What You Choose
(This is a very real glimpse to show others that not everyone has it together all the time. People struggle with different things daily and I am no different. I want to share this personal struggle with everyone so that they will know that they are not alone and no one is perfect. The picture of us is from a few years ago before I started my weight loss journey. We are singing to each other “You are my sunshine” and I am fighting back the tears that want to stream down my face. She is so strong and she doesn’t even know it.)
June is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Join me in wearing purple to support the cause to ending Alzheimer's. #ENDALZ If you are struggling with a loved one that has Alzheimer’s, please reach out – you don’t have to go through this alone.
Here are some great resources:
Support through motivational writing
The Alzheimer’s Association
Alzheimer’s Support Group
Facebook Group – #WarriorTribe
Facebook Group – Memory People