The final part of an essay I wrote for my nonfiction writing class my junior year of college.
My grandma’s oldest sister, Tamera was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 63. At the time, her oldest grandchild was in his teens, and her youngest grandchild was a baby.
Tamera’s husband, Frank, lovingly cared for his wife through the confusion and the anger. He always kept hope. He put Tamera in studies, hoping they would help stave off the brain destruction that resulted in major memory loss. Sadly, it is thought to be one the studies that caused Tamera’s quick demise.
Frank spent his whole retirement and savings caring for Tamera. A couple years ago, Uncle Frank’s own health became burdensome, and he could no longer care for her. He sent her to a nursing home where she has remained ever since. He still visits her as often as he can. Frank is repaid for his love. Tamera has never forgotten him. She does not remember his name, but she knows him, and is as comfortable and content as ever in his presence.
This kind of vigilance is only derived from true, selfless love. It is from that love that heroes are born. Alzheimer’s is the worst disease because it does not just affect the individual, but the caregivers as well. In fact, it is the caregivers that are affected the most. The disease leads the affected individuals into a forgetful bliss. They have no idea what is going on. The disease leaves the caregivers to suffer and agonize over their loved one—their father, their sister, their wife—as they slowly become a shell of the person they once were. It is the caregivers, the heroes, that are left with the burden to remember.
Tamera was always so happy, so lively. I loved to visit with Uncle Frank and Aunt Tamera. Aunt Tamera knew so many things. She would bid the children come sit around her, and she would tell us stories. She played games with us, and her laugh was a mile long. Her life is marked by her sweet and loving personality. Even today it shines through the disease.
My freshman year of college I went to visit my grandparents. At the time, Frank and Tamera were visiting them too. Frank, Tamera, my grandparents and I spent the whole afternoon talking about their childhood and life growing up in Idaho Falls. At that time, Tamera still recalled sitting trapped in the cold outhouse as a little girl, shooing a little garden snake away. She went through all the actions. Tamera pulled her knees in close to her and shooed away an imaginary snake. I laughed so hard I got the hiccups. She still remembered how her parents and all eight children would pile into a tiny car with no seat belts to drive to church down dusty roads.
The afternoon sun warmed us in the front room as we sat in the circle of furniture. Dust particles could be seen floating the bright light. And Tamera, although quite giggly and perhaps a little bemused, was still Tamera. About two years have passed, and Grandma Shelley estimates her to have the mental ability of an 18-month old.
When Tamera’s children and grandchildren went to go eat dinner with her at the nursing home, she started eating off her youngest grandson’s plate. The little boy, only about two or three at the time, was furious, and threatened to tell grandpa if she did not stop. A fight between grandmother and grandson proceeded. It ended in teary-eyed tantrums…on both sides.
The toddler ran around the table and roughly pulled on Uncle Frank’s sleeve. “Grandpa , I don’t like her to eat off my plate.. “She’s my sweetheart,” Frank told the little boy. “Well, I don’t like your sweetheart to eat of my plate!.
Tamera can no longer feed or toilet herself. Her body is itself shutting down. Medical professionals attest to this extremely painful process. She has forgotten how to speak English, and instead communicates in the made up language of toddler before she pick up speech.
One day, Grandma Shelley went to go see Tamera in the home. Tamera has an unusual tick where she sits down on the floor and picks up nothing. She will fill other cupped hand with “nothings,” and when it is full, she will dump the nothings into another person’s patient and willing hand. Often, it is Frank’s hand open to accept Tamera’s “nothings.”
Grandma Shelley sat down in front of Tamera, and begun to pick up “nothings” too. Meanwhile, Tamera gabbed away in her unknown language. Once in awhile, there will be an inflection in Tamera’s voice as if she were asking a question. Grandma Shelley would answer ‘yes,’ and then Tamera would continue to talk Grandma Shelley’s ear off.
Then Tamera paused. She looked up into Grandma Shelley’s eyes and said,
“I love you.” Before Grandma could take in what had happened, Tamera was back in her world, conversing in an unknown tongue, and picking up “nothings.”
Tamera’s time may be near, her body is aware that it is dying. Her descent into a forgetful abyss was not as long as Great Grandpa Thayne’s. To the end, Great Grandpa could still speak, toilet himself, and feed himself. Compared to Tamera’s 18-month-old mind, Great Grandpa Thayne was around 4years- old. It will be a bittersweet relief when Tamera comes to rest. She will be free from her shattered mind. She will join the ranks of the many family members who have left behind an unforgettable and heartbreaking legacy.
Grandma Shelley putts around the kitchen while I sit at the bar musing. She and Grandpa Clint have moved down the road to care for my great grandma.
“I’m afraid,” she begins, “I’m afraid that Grandma will outlive my usefulness too her. I don’t know what will happen to her then.” That is Grandma Shelley’s fear. She will succumb to Alzheimer’s disease before Great Grandma leaves this world. Not that she will get Alzheimer’s, but that she will no longer be able to care for the people she loves if she does.
Grandma Shelley cares for her brain. It carries a most prized possession, memories. She takes vitamins, including Omega-3s faithfully. Omega-3s are fatty acids that important for body function, and may improve memory when they are present in the hippocampus region of the brain.
Grandma Shelley also puts coconut oil in her morning smoothie. Some claim that coconut oil helps reverse they affect of Alzheimer’s disease. It helps build essential molecules that are important for cell function in the brain. Unfortunately, no extensive scientific research can back that claim.
One evening when Boyfriend and I were visiting, we gathered around the kitchen table with Grandma Shelley and Grandpa Clint to play Rummikub. It had been a busy day, and we were all yawning. I could not seem to keep my mouth shut. The fixture swinging precariously above was our only source of light. Its yellow bulbs illuminated the ivory tiles below. Despite the late hour, Grandma Shelley quickly dominated us in demanding logically game not once, but twice.
Grandma Shelley’s brain is in good shape. However, genes are some pretty twisted molecules. Just because an individual may inherited a gene for Alzheimer’s they may not get it. Possessing the gene may simply mean that the individual has predisposition to develop the disease. It gets more complicated. It may be completely dependent on how they live their life and in what environment they live in.
This is a record of three generations. Family historians reveal that many generations before have died from, or had Alzheimer’s disease when they died. Genetics point to the opposite direction. They point in the direction of the fourth generation, the generation of my mother.
What if she develops Alzheimer’s? There is no one I would rather emulate than my Grandma Shelley. She is my hero. Her legacy of patience and long-suffering is great, but the burden of remembrance is heavy. I do not want to be the woman who remembers.
The pattern continues. No matter how upset my stomach is, the carousel will continue to whirl around. The chromatic horse will forever bounce up and down, and there is no way that I can jump off.
The carnival music will play on no matter how sick in the head I am. There is no relief from genetics. How can I willingly procreate knowing that I may force the burden of remembrance to my children? Only time will tell. The only thing left to do is remember.
I have begun my own search of the cause. I have joined the ranks of millions who have registered as occupants of studies. The studies compare the genetics of individuals that may carry the certain genetic mutations. Perhaps scientist can pinpoint the cause of the degradation of the brain. At
present Alzheimer’s disease stays illusive to the researchers. The disease stays just out of reach. This year I have found a fundraiser called “The Longest Day.” On the 21 of June, inviduals and
families will gather to be active for the entire 16 hours of sunlight. The will perform their activity of choosing—from watercolor to rock climbing—for an allotted amount of time. When they are finished, they physically or virtually tag a teammate, and their teammate activates.
The purpose of the day is to remember. It is to remember all the loved ones that have had their memory destroy. It is to remember all the loved ones that have bore the burden of remembrance as caregivers.
I immediately registered to participate in “The Longest Day.” Thrill pulsed through my veins as I created a team and named it Team Thayne. My physical prowess will need time to train. Recent illness have kept me relatively inactive for the past couple years. No matter, I will train. I will train hard and long. I will train to run. My high elevation will not stop me.
Support rallies around me. I graciously received donations from friends and family the day I registered. My goal is $1600. At this point, I have about five percent of my goal. In my excitement, I posted to social media sites. I want others to participate too. I want them to activate in remembrance for the longest day.
I will run in honor of Great Grandpa. I will run in honor of Aunt Tamera. I will for run in honor for my other loved ones that have forgotten. I will in honor of Grandma Shelley, the woman who
remembers. Perhaps, the money I raise will help end Alzheimer’s. Then no one will forget, and no one will have to bear the burden of remembrance. I keep hope.
This is my family history. A history that one day I may face; a history that one day I may forget. It is a history that I must remember.