Sunday, October 5, 2014

Remembering Grandma

I am named after my maternal grandmother, Carrie Wood.  She was considered “Big Carrie” and I was “Little Keri” until I grew to be the taller between the two of us. October 30th would have been my grandma’s birthday. Recently, I served as the honorary chairperson of a local Alzheimer's walk where I had the opportunity to pay tribute to Grandma Carrie.  When I think of her, I think of Christmas and the stacks of large coffee cans she would have filled with different types of fancy cookies. I think of the stollen she would make – a doughy bread-type coffeecake fashioned into a large crescent, filled with candied fruit and frosted with white icing. I think of Grandma’s beautifully decorated home that felt both elegant and cozy. I think of the pressed flower note cards that she made. I think of birthday cakes, holiday dinners and small, slender trays on which I could place my breakfast to eat in the living room in front of Saturday morning cartoons. I think of The Lawrence Welk Show and how much my grandparents had at one time liked to dance. I think of fingernail polish, fashionable pantsuits and Sanka coffee. I think of the card she wrote to me during a special time in my life with a note of love and encouragement, a card that remains a precious keepsake. I think of the slide shows that she and Grandpa would give to family upon their return from camping trailer trips out west. I think of the times around the kitchen table when Grandma, Mom and I would look at old family pictures, touching each image lovingly and telling a story to bring those old photos to life. My Grandma Carrie was a lovely woman with many gifts and many talents. When I close my eyes, I can still see Grandma Carrie. As time went on, however, Grandma changed.  Her world got smaller and her memory shorter. She got lost walking home from church one day. Keeping up with conversation became harder. She withdrew. Eventually, when my grandfather’s health prevented him from caring for her, Grandma Carrie moved to a nursing home.  Before she died there, she didn’t know most of our family members any longer, including my mom and my aunt. The lovely grandma who once showed me how to hand-sew turned into a stranger who expressed her frustrations of her illness by striking out. If only my grandparents had had access to the types of support services available today to people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias and their families and caregivers.  Perhaps, the weight of the changes going on in their lives would have been made lighter and their journey with the disease not so long and lonely. This month, I will carry the memory of Grandma Carrie close to my heart, for although the ending felt bitter, my memories of the lady I loved as Grandma Carrie are forever sweet.