by: Griselda Salas

What is Alzheimer’s disease? It is a disease that creeps up on people, erasing all memories and eating up part of their lives, if not all. It is the loss of intellectual abilities to a degree where some daily activities are impossible to do themselves. It is a very helpless and sad disease. I have lived through a similar situation and I have worked with people with this dementia.

            I grew up around a very loving group and family. The happiness and the jokes were always there. I had an uncle, papa, who I lived with most of my childhood. His passing was for the best. I would ride up to his field in a wagon with his wife, nana. He knew it was us because it was lunch time. He would cut me a sugar cane from the field and I would chew its sweet juices right out. He always had a funny comment to make about my hair since it was everywhere and he would call me Kiki. I enjoyed him carrying me in piggy-back and give me rides around the fields. My nana noticed his memory loss at a very early stage and I noticed it when he would forget we were coming. I missed my rides and I missed the sweet sugar canes.

            Time passed and he forgotten more and more. One morning I was woken up by the high pitch scream of my nana. I sat still in my bed as I heard her yell out to her daughters. I ran along to my nana’s room, only to find her shaking my papa. My papa was shaking violently and convulsing, he was having a stroke. This was the beginning to his end. My papa came home days later. He was in a wheelchair, with a hunched back and his face looking down at his palms, resting on his laps. My nana explained to us that my papa had been forgetting where he had placed things and sometimes he felt lost in his own home. This stroke just did the final touches to his dementia. My papa would sit there and not say anything he would just look out the screen door, or just at his laps. He lost sensation from all his right side straight down the whole body. He would now stutter and repeat every single word at least four to five times. His image worsened because at first he wouldn’t eat. He was scared he would choke and a couple of times he would bite his tongue, he had forgotten how to eat, and he had no clue what he was eating. As the months passed I had to move out back with my mom because of school. My summer vacations always seemed so short but this one seemed to have stood still in my memory and it wasn’t changing for the good. Even though I had left I would still visit him every weekend. Every single time I would go and sit with him and try to hold a conversation with him about his field and I would tell him stories of the past, as if though we had just came from there. For a moment he would remember and he would answer me and he would always cry along with his words. It was as if though he knew he was suffering from dementia yet he is remembering something. He would cry as if though he was fighting to remember or as if he was mad and felt useless to his family. I felt so stupid not being able to help him anymore, not being able to do anything to ease his pain and suffering.

            My papa was a very strong man; he was a hard working man. He would plow his fields, to harvest his own corn and pastures to feed his family. His day would start every morning from early four, five in the morning, to late in the afternoon. My nana was so surprised that even to his last moments he still remembered my name. Nobody can for sure say he can put a face on that name “Kiki”, but that really means too much to me. I was in my job in Dallas, Texas, when my mom called giving me the bad news. My papa was in his last days and he wasn’t going to last long. I left to see him. When I reached his room I cried a moment before I walked in, and my nana went in with me. We sat down by his sides, held his frail, thin, cold hand and called his name. I told him it was Kiki and I had come to see if he was doing well, and I asked him how his corn field was. He turned his stare at my nana and then at me and his tears ran down the sides of the wrinkles of his cheeks. I repeated to him who I was and I asked him if we were going tomorrow to sell the corn we picked the other day at his field.  He surprisingly answered in a stuttering manner that yes we were and that where had I been. He said I was slacking and that I knew I had to help him eat the sugar cane sticks. I told him how my nana has been treating you and he said you know that old girl always on my case not to work too much but I can’t live without her. My nana’s face had a huge smile and we both were amazed how he managed to hold both our hands even though he was paralyzed from his right. We weren’t in there too long, when he told us that he felt really sleepy and tired. He told my nana not to forget we have to sell this corn tomorrow. We stayed by his side a little while longer and he said well aren’t you going to let me sleep. We gave him a kiss on his forehead and I hugged him, and we walked out the room.

            My papa passed away later that night in his sleep. Fortunately he gave everyone enough time to adjust to his dementia. He was kind and you knew he had fought to his last moment to try to keep some piece of mind. I for one am so proud of him. I feel blessed that he gave me the opportunity to continue in his life to his last moments and I am so glad that he went peacefully. I have great fear of this disease; I have much anger towards it. Alzheimer’s disease is no joke and it is irreversible. Your only hope is to try bringing reminiscent stories, pictures, or videos to help them rewind.