[Anonymous Personal Story]
One of the hardest things my family ever had to do was watch my grandfather fall into Alzheimer's.
In some ways, we may never recover who we were.
My grandmother went through a period of enshrinement after he died, putting up pictures of him at his worst all over so she could sit and cry when she saw them. It's been almost a half a year since he passed away, but we lost him two years before that, for the last two years, he had not been himself. Not the grandfather we all knew.
Before the Alzheimer's, he was a retired physicist who went to a weekly singing group, helped tutor us and other local kids in math and science and donated more then forty hours a week at tax time to our local branch of the New York public library system. He never just did something for anyone, he made us work through how to do it while he helped and taught with other examples.
Bit by bit, those things got lost. I'm the eldest granddaughter, the eldest grandchild at all, really, and somedays it felt like more rode on me then my sister or cousins. When he started to get bad, before he had to go into an assisted living facility, I started to stay with my grandparents. Their last tenant above them had moved out, and so I brought some things, and an air mattress, and spent as many nights as I could keeping them company, and sleeping cold and alone upstairs so I could be on call. The theory was that if something went wrong, I would be there to step in, get grandma out of there, and call for help.
I was upstairs when everything broke loose, but he wasn't. My mother and grandparents had gone to pick up my sister and father, and to get dinner. The plan was to bring the food back to Grandma's and we'd all eat together. Just another night dancing on the knife blade between acceptance and denial. Before the illness, I can;t remember my grandfather ever raising his voice unless we were doing something dangerous, like trying to dive off the high board before we knew how to swim without floaties.
That night, they came in and he was yelling. Screaming at my mother about being a bad daughter, at my grandmother for being an ingratiate, my father for stealing my mother, I don't even know what. My parents tried to calm him down, my sister, trained in martial arts stood ready, and I rushed down. He had never EVER been a violent man before, in the week preceding this, however, he had taken to hiding knives around the house, and playing with them in front of people.
That night, he grabbed my grandmother's wrist, and tried to haul her inside. We brought her upstairs and called 911, and my uncle in St. Louis, and my aunt in Connecticut. That was his last night home. He went from the hospital to their attached facility. While there he went back and forth between thinking he was at work (his, my father's, didn't matter) and thinking he was being held prisoner, when we left after visiting him, he'd try to follow us, and when he couldn't, or he discovered we had slipped out, he'd stand at the door screaming and howling. Multiple times he was stopped in the attempt to bag his belongings in a blanket to escape.
From there he went to a very nice assisted living place. For the most part, it was a nice facility. It was near my college, the staff was very pleasant, the food seemed good, and they really knew how to take care of him. He was there for two years. On the anniversary of the day he left home, he had a fall. He had been having more and more of those as time went on, as well as countless mini-strokes. This fall shattered his hip. He had a DNR order, and he wasn't really there anymore, but still the family fought over the suggested surgery.
Two years to the day after he moved into the assisted living facility, he was moved against my grandmother's wishes to a nursing home. We visited him more times then there were days in the next week and a half, and then 4 hours before I was due to leave for a final, we got the call. Needless to say I didn't finish the term.
We had lost him, in many ways, over the time he was in assisted living. He didn't know who we were, who he was, or what was going on around him. Everything was something he wanted to put into his mouth, and nothing kept him entertained. It was one of the most painful things to loose him that way, and I feel like a horrible person saying it, but I was relieved for him when he passed.
The pain was over.