Mama Before Alzheimer's

There's so much I could say.   Let's see.

Mama was VERY active in her church, Bethel A.M.E. Church in Georgetown, SC, where she enjoyed singing on the adult choir and serving on different church committees.

As a retired elementary teacher (35 years of teaching), she still enjoyed volunteering occasionally at schools, reading to children. 

[Mama had earned her Master's in Education from South Carolina State (now called South Carolina State University).  She went on to have an illustrious career as an educator, including being named Teacher of the Year twice while teaching at McDonald Elementary School in our hometown, Georgetown, SC.  Mama was the type of teacher that was tough while still being DEARLY loved and respected by her students and colleagues.]

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. is an organization that she dearly loved being a part of.   She enjoyed the sisterhood and the many opportunities to serve the community.   And serve she did.   Back in January of 2009 she was honored with her fellow founding members of the Georgetown Chapter.  It was quite inspiring.  At that time, it was earlier on in the progression of the disease.   And so much has changed since even then.   Still we are grateful that she was able to experience and enjoy being honored.   Her Delta sisters, many of which have been her friends for years, have really shown their love by staying in touch through phone calls and cards.   It is much appreciated.

During her retirement, Mama also loved volunteering on Fridays at Georgetown Memorial Hospital at the front desk.  It was work that she looked forward to each week.  Mama had a special way of doing her job, with equal parts great skill and joy.   She has always cared for people and her face was a friendly and familiar one that blessed people as they came through the hospital.

Mama LOVED to go fishing.  That was a real slice of heaven for Mama to go fishing with one of her fishing buddies.  I don't know which she enjoyed more... the lively conversation with a good friend or the thrill of catching fish to bring home for supper. :)

To say Mama was an avid reader was an understatement.  I can remember her coming home with 2 or 3 VERY thick novels, all of which were usually completed before their due dates.  She loved the escape of reading, the adventure, and particularly loved mystery novels. 

Mama has also dealt with challenges throughout her life, as people do in life, in general.  Sometimes, when I look back it seems that Mama has endured a bit more than many.   

Through the death of her husband, Benjamin, my father, who mysteriously drowned while out fishing on his boat back in the late 70s (we never found out what really happened) 

                                   My beloved father,Benjamin Gilliard, Jr. and mother, Mildred B. Gilliard
                                                  .....happy times back in the day   :)  
Both wonderful educators, 
Daddy was a middle school Guidance Counselor and Mama, an elementary school teacher sudden death of her mother Hazel, my grandmother, who died during complications during angioplasty surgery back in the early 90s the death of her beloved father, James, my grandfather, of prostate cancer a few years later (who also had Alzheimer's Disease... I remember the many times Mama traveled back and forth to visit and help care for him)

...and the death of other family members and friends throughout the year the death of her dearly beloved brother Curtis from prostate cancer (my Uncle Curtis) six years ago.   

Uncle Curtis' death to me felt like the breaking point for Mama.  

She had a VERY close bond with her younger brother.  
She was so proud of all of his accomplishments, and simply loved the wonderful charismatic person he was.  

I can remember how she'd fuss over him, whenever he came to visit.  Uncle Curtis was full of life and LOVED life, and I can still vividly remember Mama lighting up whenever he came to visit.  So when he passed away, something in Mama died too.  She has never been the same.

It wasn't long after that she began to isolate, perhaps when she noticed changes in her ability to remember things.    She gradually stopped all of her normal activities and just did the bare minimum, getting food, handling her affairs like paying bills and going to the post office to check her mail.  It must have been really hard and scary for her, a woman so independent to realize that she was slowly losing control and losing her mental capacities.

It took about 3 years before things got worse, when we were finally able to intervene.  I wish to God we could have helped her sooner.  God knows I tried my best.  But it is what it is. 

I encourage anyone reading this, to watch for the signs with your loved ones.  Depression can definitely be a precursor to Alzheimer's Disease.   Everyone needs someone to talk to, whether it's a counselor, minister, family member or friend.  It's important for those grieving to get it out, to relive the burden of all those feelings and to get some perspective. 

And even with her own father having had Alzheimer's, it was not early onset, so this doesn't necessarily mean that it is hereditary.  I believe there is much we can do in terms of lifestyle to protect our brains (from staying physically active and social, to exercising the brain by continuing to learn new things or playing brain games, to eating foods and taking supplements for brain health).  

The good thing is, now Mama is actually more engaged with people, even though it is challenging communicating and understanding with Alzheimer's.  Still, she's now around people and interacting, instead of being by herself most of the time.   This is not good for anyone.

Mama was and still is a wonderful person.  She's had many heartaches and pains, and yet she's enjoyed a life with many highs.   I recall her excitement about her dream trip to Italy (Rome, Florence, etc.)  She still carries pictures today of that trip to share with anyone who will oblige her!  I'm so glad that in the midst of a life filled with responsibility, that she was able to enjoy herself on that trip with a group of wonderful friends from Georgetown.  

My prayer daily is that Mama enjoys life the best she can.  Because, after all, isn't that the whole point when you boil it all down?  :)