Letter from America
by Ellen Neumann
New York –
March 29th, 2012.
I, the eldest child in a family of six, grew up in a rural area of New York State in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, USA. I was blessed to have my grandparents, Margaret and Thomas Dillon, living next door; my great aunt Gabriella around the corner. Life was simple and full of love. How lucky I was! My Pop would sit on the back porch, sing with me and tell me stories of his own good parents, siblings, in-laws and a few outlaws as well. Pop brought these long dead relatives to life for me with his vivid recollections and colourful explanations. I learned to love them as much as my living family members who walked through my daily life. While other children were learning and reciting Grimm’s Fairytales, I was happily entrenched in a world full of the Dillon’s and the Sheridan’s, the Lynch’s and the Naughtons. They were my heroes and my role models. My Nana Margaret was the dearest person I have ever known. Her grace and genuine kindness shone over us all, nurturing and protecting us. She loved with a ferocity that will never be matched. She was a good Catholic, a great mother and a magnificent grandmother. She lived the hard life of a farmer’s wife yet never complained. She was the best! And, in the 85th year of her life, the devil came to her door and attempted to steal her soul.
This devil was Alzheimer’s disease. In April 1975 Nana fell and broke her hip. She was hospitalised for a while and when she returned to her home she seemed a wee bit confused and lost. She was confined to a wheelchair, her hip never healed nor did she ever walk again. Over the course of the next several months she became distant and irritable, sleeping less, suffering memory loss and needing more personal attention. By Christmas it was evident that she would need full-time care; no longer able to stay alone for even the shortest period of time. I was a young wife and mother of two little girls. I was clueless when it came to this debilitating disease that was soon to envelope not only my beautiful Nana but also our entire family.
Thankfully we were a large and loving family who understood the ways of life and accepted our responsibilities gladly if not always graciously. We created an atmosphere at home for Nana’s safety and comfort where she remained until just a few days before she passed away. Our own needs took a back seat to hers. We made a schedule so she would never be alone. I would come to her home on a Monday and stay till Friday with my little girls who were aged 4 and 1½ years of age. My mother, aunt and sisters would care for her on the weekends. By this time Nana had reverted to virtual infancy and knew no one, not even her own children. She ate little, slept almost never and could barely utter a word. “Mama, Mama” and “Barbara, Barbara” she would repeat over and over and over again. She said nothing else, not a single whisper or sound. How heartbreakingly sad! I would park her wheelchair next to the playpen that held my baby. Nana and the baby would swat at each other and sometimes hold hands. They were good company for each other, words not necessary between them; the bond of blood prevailing.
Many wondered if there was a person left in that old debilitated body but not me, never me. I knew Nana’s soul was as strong as ever; her heart still beating with determination and love. How could I know this? She told me. Wait a minute! Did I not just say she only uttered two words endlessly, over and over and over? That is indeed what I said. Mama (her mother) and Barbara (my baby Barbi) were her first love and her last love. I believe that although the devil Alzheimer’s disease crushed her brain cells it was not able to rob her of her spirit. Medically they say this is not possible. I know better. I know that the love she shared with us, her family past, present and future was stronger than the horrible disease that would eventually claim her life.
The entire experience of her last year and a half was bittersweet. What an awful way for the life of a person of beauty and grace to end. Or was it? She was cared for in her own home by hands that genuinely loved her. These hands cared for her gently and catered to her every need. Throughout her entire life she was the caregiver, the one who did the giving. We were afforded the privilege of “giving back” to her in the twilight of her life. We knew how and what to do for she had taught us by her own example. The devil Alzheimer’s tried to steal her soul and failed miserably. Margaret Sheridan Dillon rests in peace in the arms of the angels in heaven, reunited with her loved ones who have gone before her. Her legacy lives on in us. Her unconditional love surpasses the grave eternally.
Have you been a caregiver for an older relative? Let’s talk!
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