A Little Piece Of Leather Well Put Together
Happy November, family!
The 11th month of the year is my all time FAVORITE. Not only is it my birth month, but fall is at it's peak, Thanksgiving is upon us and we're in the final stages of planning for the year ahead...
But it also happens to National Alzheimer's Disease + Awareness Month + Family Caregivers Month (NADAM). I'm addressing this because it's an issue I take very seriously, as my only living grandparent, Granny, has been battling Dementia for nearly a decade. And my mother, who we'll call Mother Mason now and forever, is her primary caretaker. Ride wit me.
First, let me say I HATE Dementia/Alzheimer's with a passion and I really pray there's a cure found within my lifetime. On my personal scale of scariness, I put Dementia right on up there with cancer. It's real and it sucks. At one point, there were two people in my family home with Dementia (the beginning stage of Alzheimer's, but just as debilitating/heartbreaking); Granny and Bruh Mason (my Dad's dad). At this time, I was still living at home and saw what Mother Mason did dutifully everyday; I even helped sometimes, but my contributions in no way compared to hers.
When I set out to write this post, I thought it would be about Granny mostly. But now I'm seeing this is going to be more so, about Mother Mason and the strength it takes to care for someone with this disease. Short answer: it's really very hard. Majorly. But God. Here's a little backstory, tho:
So Granny is probably one of the feistiest, sternest (some might say mean), Gospel-hymn moanin' people I know. Until she moved in with the family, she kept a snub nose .38 in a shoe box near her bed at her Michigan home, so that let's you know the kind of person we're dealing with here. She didn't take a lot of foolishness, but she was extremely loving and did anything to help her family. In fact, it was even a battle getting her to abandon her independent lifestyle and move to Florida full-time; but at the end of the day, she knew she was changing and that she needed someone, needed Mother Mason to ya know, keep an eye on her.
And that's all it was really for about 3 or 4 years; all Mother Mason had to do at home with Granny was 'keep an eye on her.' She would forget things here and there, but was still relatively independent. She would even help clean up around the house (her favorite thing) with her chew 'bacca (chewing tobacco). Mother Mason didn't mind this, after all, she was busy tending to Bruh Mason. And poor Dad, for the first time ever, the women in the house outnumbered him! Lololol.
Everyone knew their role, but Mother Mason, Granny and myself were all friends. I was in college, but knew that I was the grandchild, so I respected my grandmother as such. And it goes without saying I respect my Mom; we laughed together, sometimes cried, but it was mostly all good. When I moved to Chicago in 2011, Granny was starting to change a bit, but more or less, she was still herself. She was in the beginning stages of loss of name recognition, periodic hallucinations and unwarranted agitation. I remember coming home to visit one holiday and Granny gave the whole family a fright because she wandered out of the house in the middle of night and we drove around, a little over an hour looking for her. It was pitch black outside (our family home is in the country, so there are no street lights) and we had no idea where she was. We'll never admit it, but I'm sure we were all thinking the worst at some point during that hour she was missing. Thankfully, we found her unharmed, joyful and only missing her glasses laying down in my uncle's flower bed. As we saw to Granny getting back into the house safely, I'm sure the family was relieved and thankful, but this was definitely one of the more terrifying moments of my life. But even this level of wandering didn't impact the day-to-day much. My Mom knew she would have to keep an even closer eye on Granny, but Mother Mason and I knew, if she was still telling us, "Look here, I'm a little piece of leather well put together, honey" and fussing/raising hell about chewing tobacco, she was aight. Lol. Everytime she said that famous saying, Mother Mason and I laughed hysterically. Where did she get that from?! We always said that even though she had Dementia, once she got around people she didn't know, she had a way of putting on as if she was perfectly fine. Like, she knew when she was around company so she would put on her best 'normal' performance. That's how prideful she is -- she didn't want strangers feeling sorry for her or treating her differently because she was a little bit different than everyone else.
So I had some guilt about moving. I didn't want to leave Mother Mason to care for Granny all by herself. By now, Bruh Mason had gone onto glory, but my Mom never really had a break in between parents needing care. And I felt like I was responsible for being there to assist -- because that's what I always did; help. I've always helped my Mom -- and sometimes I still feel guilt about being in Chicago when I know there is work to be done in Tallahassee. Because Granny is a lot different now; she's what health professionals would call "total care." But if you left it to the doctors, Granny's doctor even, this story would have ended in July 2015.
During that time, Granny's Dementia was progressing rapidly and she would experience a series of mini strokes that weren't really effecting her physically, but during vacation bible school that summer, Granny would experience a major stroke that would leave her unable to speak. Additionally, the Dementia mixed with the stroke also impacted her ability to swallow, walk and have the right side of her body unable to move/feel anything. While at the hospital, do you know what my grandmother's doctor said? He said, "call Hospice because there is nothing else I can do for her."
The doctor said it was wrap. But my Mother wasn't giving up that easily.
After that "report," Mom took Granny home. I'm not sure she really had a clear cut plan at the time, but she knew she wasn't just going to call Hospice and stop trying. Granny was still here. She was still breathing. Her eyes were open.
How does one give up on life when life is showing you it's still there?
Hospice was not called. With the Lord on her side, Mother Mason took things into her own hands. You see, life is cyclical; you come into this world needing care and if you're blessed, you'll leave needing the same care and attention as a baby. Mother Mason got the syringes, pureed some food and worked with Granny every single day, sometimes all day long, getting her to eat. That was a year ago. Granny's still here.
Granny and I always had fun together, so there's nothing I wish I could say to her that hasn't been said already, but boy do I miss hearing her voice. I had no idea the last time I would hear her speak would be Christmas 2014. That doesn't stop me from talking to her, though! Whenever I'm home, I carry on as if she's going to chime in at any moment -- her eyes do light up when I'm around and she'll smile. Sometimes I just want to cry because I hate to see her this way, given her independent spirit, but I'm thankful that she's still with us and I'm thankful the Lord continues to renew my Mom's strength to care for her. I know it can't be easy, but how can you ever repay the person who gave you life? By caring for theirs as best you can.
For those that aren't directly impacted by this illness, you probably don't think about it very much at all. But unfortunately, I think about it pretty frequently and ways I can lower my chances of developing Dementia or even my parent's developing it. I hate this disease so much, but I am enamored by my Mother's dedication, strength and willpower to carry on every single day. In life, I believe God presents us with a series of tests to see what our faith is really built on -- I know it has to be nothing but the Lord working through my Mom to push through every day.
Granny used to say she was the little piece of leather well put together, but I think Mother Mason is the leather with the supreme construction.
To learn more about Dementia/Alzheimer's, be sure to visit the NADAM website.