A Forgotten Lifetime: Story by Ian Heinze

The following segment is a personal essay from Ian Heinze during his time at Quincy University

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“In the early stages once my family had discovered what was afflicting her, my Grandma (Norma Heinze) was still coherent enough to realize that something was wrong.  I’ll never forget one of the most horrifying moments of my life; my father went to Grandma’s house to check in on her, only to find her surrounded by Bibles and crucifixes exclaiming that the devil was pursuing her.  She had fallen victim to a tragic disease (Alzheimer’s), which was toying with the mind of its unsuspecting host. Unfortunately we misperceived additional subliminal messages, the amazing cook of years past now began to burn dishes; and the precise seamstress couldn’t remember how to sew a simple shirt.

My Grandma was once one of the strongest women I knew; deeply rooted in her faith, never complained, and always did anything and everything she could, to help others.  Now, as this horrible disease takes over her brain, I discover she has become a shell of her former self.  The wisdom, happiness, and strength I once knew, has turned into anger, absentmindedness, and sorrow.  Even now, after watching her progression slowly get worse month after month, I still find it incredibly difficult to witness.

As a child, whenever I would bounce into her house, I would always find her either cooking or working on a crossword puzzle.  Now as I plod into the nursing home to see her, I see her staring at a blank wall, emotionless.  As I struggle into the Alzheimer’s section, it really tears me up to see the state of the patients there.  Many sit, staring off into space, daydreaming and locked in a state of incomprehension.

My Grandma has always been bad with names.  For as long as I can remember I’ve been called almost every male name in the family.  Maybe it’s because of this that we didn’t catch the warning signs of Alzheimer’s, or that we brushed them off as just Grandma being Grandma.  Today we’re stuck wondering what could have been if we would have realized the storm that was brewing.  For years now, we’ve watched helplessly as Grandma slowly lost her memory and became dependent on help for even the simplest of tasks.

Absentmindedness, trouble conversing, remembering names, or questions having to be repeated—these are serious indicators that a loved one has Alzheimer’s.  The characteristics my Grandmother most proudly displayed are now but a whisper in the wind, a distant memory.  Her faith has been stolen, her family has transformed into strangers, and her mind has been erased. How could she ever recognize family members when she does not possess the ability to recognize herself?  She has become in essence, a living corpse.

Though her body is no longer controlled by a mind filled with a lifetime of knowledge, her heartbeat still pounds on strong as a horse.  The steady pulse of her 009.JPGheart could continue on for a multitude more years, condemning her to remain in her current state of constant bewilderment.  Her mind was once a beautifully painted canvas nearing completion; only to have each stroke torn away to reveal a stark white sheet.  She has been defied of  perhaps the most important and cherished aspect of human life— ones memory.

To this day it is still extremely hard to see what has become of one of the strongest women I’ve ever met.  Words still force their way out of her lips, but sentences rarely form.  Cloudy eyes stare out windows and see figures in the tress; these same eyes that don’t recognize friends, family, anyone.  The smiles I was once used to seeing as a child are now worthy of a phone call to the family if I’m lucky enough to get one.  Alzheimer’s has stolen much more than just her mind.  It has taken away her future, her memories, and her happiness.

I’ve already lost my Grandma to this horrific disease; I don’t want to lose anyone else, especially family members.  As a nation, there needs to be more support and funding going into 012.JPGAlzheimer’s research.  A cure needs to be found at any cost.  All that’s necessary is to walk into an Alzheimer’s section of a nursing home for five minutes to understand how truly horrifying this disease is.  In five minutes, you can experience all the sorrow, suffering, and torture that the afflicted have to go through every single day.  This disease is unfair and is destroying lives at an astonishingly fast rate

When I was younger, sometimes I was asked what I feared the most.  I answered with my childhood phobia of heights or dying.  Now if you questioned me, I would respond that my greatest fear is falling prey to this terrible disease.  This disease is 100% worse than death.  I can’t imagine the state of terror people with Alzheimer’s must be in.  To not know who you are, to not have any memories, to not even be able to communicate or function without assistance.  I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more bleak future.”

To learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association and Alzheimer’s disease visit alz.org/illinoiscentral