*This is edited and reposted from the archives.
My grandfather has Alzheimer's/dementia. We have watched him deteriorate for several years now. It's like watching someone die, one memory, one character trait at a time. Before the onset of dementia, my grandfather was a strong, opinionated, stubborn, witty, funny man. He had, and still has, a strong faith that runs deep and influenced every choice he ever made. He isn't overly affectionate, but you know he loves you by the way his eyes light up when he sees you. From my memories, his great delight was his grandchildren, of which I was the first. He loved taking us for rides on the tractor, showing us the cows, or telling us stories of the gigantic snake that carved out the road the farm was on. My favorite part of that story was when the snake stopped by his house for a drink of water. He told us that story over and over again. Now when we get together as a family he mostly keeps to himself and stays quiet. Still at times he has amazing moments of clarity. At the last family reunion he told us about a rooster they once had that figured out how to jump up and knock food out of the bird feeder. He said, "That rooster was doing exactly what God designed it to do. He was taking care of his hens." I've been fortunate to have him only an hour's drive away most of my life so I've had many wonderful times with him.
The house he lived in was the house he grew up in. That house was as much a member of his family as my mother and grandmother. It was his constant worry and love. Not long after the onset of dementia he became extremely paranoid about the house -- that it would burn down or someone would break into it. He is leaving it today. Most likely he will never live there again.
Of course, the greatest love of his life, after Christ, is my grandmother. He was a hard man to live with, even before he became demented, but she faithfully loved him through the years. She is more intimately acquainted with his deterioration than any of the rest of us. She has had to put up with all the daily difficulties of his disease, and she has done so with dignity and grace. Her devotion to him has been flawless. She is my hero. I cannot imagine being in her shoes, watching the love of your life diminish in that way, the man you invested your life in slowly dying. Her kids have given her several opportunities to take some time away from grandpa. I can only imagine the mixed emotions she must feel in those times - relief to be away, guilt for feeling that way, anxiety for his well-being when she is not with him. And his devotion to her is just as binding. She is his security, his comfort. One weekend recently they were staying with my parents. The aggressive tendencies brought on by the disease had gotten to the point that my mom and her siblings were no longer comfortable with the idea of grandma being alone with him for more than a few hours, especially at night when he is most restless. My dad and grandfather were sitting in the living room and my mother and grandmother were in the dining room. Had he known where to look he would have been able to see her through the doorway from where he was sitting. He asked my dad where she was, and dad said she is right over there. He then said, "I don't want to live if I have to live without Carol." My grandmother has said that she would rather the Lord take grandpa on to heaven than to have to put him in a home. Today they will be parted. She will be with him as often as she can, of course, but they will most likely never be together in the same way again.
My mom and her brother and sister have done what they can to help grandma and grandpa through this time. They have supported them as much as they can and helped figure out the details of his care. I know that today is a very difficult day for my mom and I'm sure it is for her brother and sister as well. They are all going to the home with grandma and grandpa to help with his transition, though I'm sure none of them want to be there. I can't imagine the turmoil of watching one of your parents disintegrate in this way. I think the hardest thing of this for my mom has been seeing his mental deterioration while his body continues to be strong and healthy. Unfortunately this fact has made the need to put him into a long-term care facility inevitable. His body refuses to quit, even at the age of 86, but his mind has not withstood the passage of time so well. It has now gotten to the point that his needs are beyond my family's abilities to care for. So the fateful day has now arrived. The future means spending less and less time with him, and going to visit him in the nursing home with the noxious smells, and unnerving sights and sounds. I have many memories of visiting great grandparents in nursing homes, few of them pleasant.
I wish we could have grandpa back, the way he was five or ten years ago. I wish his mind had stayed as keen and strong as his body. I wish he could have died with dignity at home on the farm. But that simply isn't the reality. I cry and I grieve. I will move on. This Thanksgiving I am so thankful for the times I have had with my grandpa, even the difficult ones. I'm grateful for the investment he has made in my life. I'm grateful for the legacy of faith, love, and perseverance that he has passed on. I hope my life can be a tribute to his legacy.