Thursday, August 4, 2011

...About the beginning.

The story of my family history is long and filled with many many people. When I was a kid, I loved staring at the custom-framed family tree in my grandparent's dining room.  My mom is from a pretty big family.  She is the tenth of eleven children, and youngest girl, born to T.N. (Touey) and Eleanor Andresen.  And this is what I remember most about her childhood.  The abridged version...

My mother, Diane Mary Andresen, was born on May 3, 1959 when my grandmother was 41 years old.  My grandmother was a hardworking lady who, obviously, had a VERY high pain tolerance. My mom always spoke about her mother with great admiration, love, and respect. Grandma was kind of your typical 1940's house-wife, but she also answered phones and was the bookkeeper for my Grandpa's plumbing business. She participated in women's circles, was a devout Catholic, and a public notary. (I know she did much much more, but this is the abridged version remember?)  My Grandpa was also a very hardworking man who ran his own plumbing business, could fix anything, and was a remarkable chess player!  But my mom never spoke very fondly of him and always said she was scared of him.  He was an alcoholic for most of his life, but he quit drinking when my grandmother needed more comprehensive care after years of showing signs of early-onset Alzheimer' Disease.

My mom remembers being about 16 or 17 years old when my grandma's "forgetfulness" became pretty obvious.  It was the mid 1970's, and although Alzheimer's Disease was given its name in the early 1900's, it was relatively new to the public.  There were not a lot of resources available to people effected by the disease, and most people exhibiting signs of dementia up to this point in time were locked away in hospitals, nursing homes, and asylums.  My great-grandmother had been one of those people.  (Did I mention my great-grandmother had the disease too?)  Anyway, so my grandma was about 57 or 58 when she started exhibiting signs of mild to moderate cognitive impairment, and by the time she was about 63, my grandpa had to retire completely to take care of her.  I don't remember much about my grandma, at least, not much about her BEFORE the disease had captured her mind completely.  But I spent a lot of time with her AFTER because my grandpa cared for her at home, with the help of my mom and her sisters, for nearly 20 years after the first symptoms of the disease appeared.  My grandma died in 1998 the day before her 80th birthday, and she spent only about 3 years in a nursing home... I know too much about the later stages of this disease.

Just because I grew up watching this disease claim the life of my mom's hero, does not mean that I am prepared to watch it slowly take away mine.  My mom and I have been through a lot together, and it wasn't until I had my own daughter, nearly 6 years ago, that I truly began to appreciate her.  Over the past year her memory has declined quickly, so I'm going to stop taking her for granted and not waste these last few weeks, months, or years we may have left.


  1. I remember studying that family tree, too! I also remember visiting Grandma in the nursing home. There were these cookies we would sneak in for her sometimes...they were some kind of Scandinavian cookie that were very thin and you would break them in the palm of your hand...there was some significance to the number of pieces it broke into (the goal was 3?). Anyhow, Grandma's eyes would light up and she'd smile at the sight of those cookies (even near the very end of her life)! I always loved it when we brought those to her. I thought it was amazing that she clearly remembered those cookies even though she couldn't verbalize it.

  2. I don't remember Grandma before Alzheimer's took her mind. I only saw her a couple of times. I remember she liked it when I sat with her and held her hand. One time she offered to make me a sandwich. When she came out of the kitchen with it, she started eating it. This is all I really remember. You are lucky to have lived so close to her. You are also lucky to live near your mom so you can see her often too.