Why I Walk to End Alzheimer’s

6 Oct
Meghan Dalessandro participated in the Western Tidewater Walk to End Alzheimer’s® from Guam, where her husband is stationed!
papa

This man is my motivation. My Papa. Eugene L. New.

Today would have been my papa’s birthday. Our first one without him….

By Meghan Dalessandro

Alzheimer’s awareness is very important to me.  My Papa was a very special man and the best grandpa.  It broke my heart when he developed Alzheimer’s, especially because he knew he was having a memory problem and would tell us how sad it made him.  It was really hard for me to see his memory steadily disappear. He lived about 2 minutes away from me, so I would see him just about every day. I remember the very first time he ever showed any signs of Alzheimer’s.  It was very drastic. The doctors told us that when something tragic happens, it will make his memory a lot worse.  My uncle, his son, passed away 4 years ago about 2 years after he started showing signs of Alzheimer’s,  and I watched him relive that moment over and over and over again.  That was HORRIBLE.

My papa was such a silly man.  I would just gotten up or just getting back from the gym and looking like a horrible mess, but the first thing he would say to me was “I like your hair” or “you look really nice today, my love.”  “My love” is what he would call his daughters and his granddaughters because he struggled to remember our names.  It would really upset him and bring tears to his eyes when he couldn’t remember someone’s name.  I remember one day when I was sitting at his kitchen table talking to him and he was telling me how upset he was that he couldn’t remember my name.  I told him I understood and that he couldn’t help it.  I then said “Papa, my name is Meghan.  Write it down on your sheet of paper.” He often would carry a little notebook in his pocket to write things down to help him remember.  He then wrote “M-E-G-H-A-N” down on a sheet of paper, without my help, and I looked up at him and smiled.  I said “Papa, you may not always remember my name and that is okay, but I spell my name differently and YOU remembered that!”  He got so excited and smiled so big.  It made me feel so nice to know that something that small made a HUGE difference in his mood.

I remember the very first time my husband (we were dating at the time) met my papa.  He got in the car and looked at me with his eyes filled with tears and said “I don’t know how you do it and stay so positive.”  I simply replied, “I have to. I have to stay positive around him so he doesn’t get upset, but when I am home away from him, that’s when I cry and show emotion.” I then told my husband that I try to not let my Papa know that he is asking the same thing over and over again.  I never told him “you already asked me that, Papa.”  I would simply answer his question, all 5 times he asked it; the same way every single time.  Eventually he would remember the response and it wouldn’t upset him.  One reason I knew my husband was a very special man is that my Papa ALWAYS remembered his name!  He remembered that my husband worked for the government, as my papa would say (my husband is in the US Navy).  He would get so excited to see my husband, Doug, and Doug would get so excited every time he saw my papa.  Doug never really grew up being close to his own grandparents, so my Papa was especially important to him because he was the closest thing to a grandparent-type relationship that he ever had.  Doug had 30 days of leave to use before we were stationed in Guam and just about every single one of those days, he spent taking my papa to lunch and just spending time with him.  My papa loved it!  One day Doug and I were driving home (we always try to pass by my Papa’s house if possible) and we saw my Papa standing out in his front yard.  My husband pulled up and as soon as my papa saw his truck, he started smiling.  We asked my papa what was wrong.  He said he couldn’t find his house (he was standing in his front yard).  Instead of Doug telling him he was in his yard and making him feel horrible, he invited him to get into the truck and to go out to dinner with us.  The first thing my papa said when he got in was “Thanks, Doug.”  It made us giggle later on knowing that he couldn’t find his own house in his yard, but he knew Doug’s name.  It made Doug feel really good.

Moving to Guam was very hard for me, especially because I knew that my Papa was in really bad shape.  We moved here March 2012.  We would call my papa often and Skype with him.  He didn’t always remember we were in Guam, but he would always say “I hate that you are so far away because I just miss you so much.”  We came home to Virginia that Thanksgiving and I knew that it would probably be the last time I would get to see my papa.  It was really hard for me.  We had a great time with him.  This past Christmas, my family took him on a horse and carriage ride around the neighborhood.  He had such a great time and told everyone that it was the best Christmas he ever had.  Doug and I were already back in Guam, but we got to see him and talk with him a lot.

NEW

On April 4, 2013 he passed away. It was a very hard time for me and my husband, especially since we were so far away from everyone.  I am glad that I did not have to see him in his final days because, from what my family has told me, it was horrible.  I did get to talk to him a lot and I mailed him a card that he kept by his bed.  My husband and I were unable to return for his funeral, which was also very hard for me.  We did get to see the funeral live via the internet, so we were really thankful for that.  I always knew my papa was an amazing man and touched so many lives, but I did not know the extent of that until I heard some of the eulogy at his funeral and so many messages and comments from people.

One thing that really stuck out to me was about a painting in his sun room.  It was of a very large Navy warship.  I never really thought to ask my Papa about it, but I found out the significance of the painting at his funeral.  My papa was in the US Army, an 82nd Airborne Paratrooper, and after he got out and went to college, he became an Electrical Engineer and would go out with the US Navy on their ships as a civilian.  The painting, of the very large naval warship, had a little note.  It was addressed to my papa and signed by the US Admiral of the ship.  The person speaking about this painting in the eulogy (who is pretty much a member of our family, not by blood, but because he was my uncle’s best friend and my papa and nana always took care of everyone) made a comment that really stuck in my head.  He said “I’m not sure what exactly Gene did on the naval ship, but it must have been pretty incredible and amazing because an Admiral took time out of his day to paint this amazing picture for a civilian.” Christmas Eve we would always have tons of people at my grandparent’s house for dinner, including whichever shift was working at the nearby fire station.

MeghanDougMy papa always gave to so many people and made sure the everyone was such well taken care of that I want to give back to my papa by creating awareness of this horrible disease, Alzheimer’s.  I tried organizing something here in Guam to raise money and awareness and have people participate in the walk the same time it will be taking place in Suffolk, Va.  The weather was not very cooperative. There was a huge storm blasting our tiny island, so the people that were originally going to walk with me on island ended up staying inside, but my friend and I did our 4 mile walk! My husband, Doug, is currently deployed and made sure he wore his Alzheimer’s awareness shirt and ran 4 miles while on a carrier ship on deployment! My mom and my cousin participated in the restaurant fundraiser the same day as the walk in VA.

You can still donate to Meghan’s team Walking for NEW and help them reach their fundraising goals until November 30, 2013!

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