A Personal Story of Alzheimer's Disease

06-07-2022

Posted By: EnvisionWell

A Personal Story of Alzheimer's Disease

A Personal Story of Alzheimer's Disease

By Helena Duzenski, Head of Marketing & Communications

 

picture of Aunt Nettie

This is my Aunt Nettie. Actually, she’s my Great Aunt, technically, my father’s mother’s sister. But, to me, that distinction never mattered. She was my Aunt, plain and simple, because she was the only aunt by blood I had.

My Aunt Nettie was one of the sweetest people you’d ever meet, with a huge heart. She sewed by hand almost every Baptism, Communion, and Confirmation dress worn by the girls in our family. She lovingly wrapped every present she gave in beautiful satin ribbon, tied just so. She called and asked after every family member and friend she had.

She was the quiet glue to our family, second born of twelve, sister to ten boys and one girl, and later, mother, grandmother, and Aunt / Great Aunt to dozens. But she died not knowing who any of us were.

Alzheimer’s disease is a terrible thing for any family to go through. There’s something inherently cruel about forgetting who you are and who the people you love are. But, with my Aunt Nettie, it seemed especially cruel because she was a person who remembered everything.

The opening lines of her eulogy, written and spoken by her niece and my godmother, Judith, encapsulates this cruelty:

 

“Ask Nettie.”

When anyone forgot anything about the family history, the solution was simply to ask Nettie. Because Nettie remembered everything, and died remembering nothing.

 

I have so many memories, too many to count, of sitting around the dinner table with all my relatives and hearing someone say, “Nettie, when was?” Or “Nettie, who was?” And she would always know the answer, with details, down to the exact date most of the time. She was the record keeper of the family, the one we all depended on, the one we assumed would ‘see’ us and remember us always.

One of my last memories of my Aunt Nettie was the final time she came to our home for Christmas dinner. There we all were, laughing and chatting like normal, but not Aunt Nettie. She sat in the corner, disoriented, looking visibly scared because for her, she was in a room full of strangers, not the family she had cherished.  

My Aunt Nettie was there that last Christmas, but she wasn’t really there at all. She was a stranger to me too.

I hate that memory of her. I wish I could erase it from my mind. I much prefer the real Aunt Nettie, the one who knew who she was and who we were; the one whose heart overflowed with love for her family.

My godmother, Judith, ended the eulogy with this:

 

Ricordiamo. We will remember.

Non dimentichiamo. We will not forget.

Arrivederla, Zia Antoinette.

 

For this blog, I’ll end with this:

While it is by no means a cure, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia can be significantly reduced and/or delayed by adopting a healthy lifestyle. It is often said that what is healthy for the heart is healthy for the brain, like eating well and exercising often.

So...

Take care of you.

Take care of your health and well-being.

It’s not just about fitting into the jeans in the back of your closet.

It’s about being around when your children get married and have kids.

It’s about being able to enjoy your life and not be dragged down by crippling disease and pain.

It’s about being able to run around after your grandkids almost as easily as you did with your children.

It’s about remembering the people you love for as long as you live.

Find your WHYs and put them in plain sight, somewhere where you’ll be reminded every day of the power of the choices you make in this life; the seemingly tiny daily choices that decide your fate.

This story is one of my WHYs. Thank you for allowing me to share it with you.

 

 

Aunt Nettie

 

 

 

 

 

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