Woman in yoga pose looks toward horizon

The holidays and The New Year have come and gone and with them so many celebrations and emotions. This past weekend I celebrated my youngest son, Gino’s, 1st birthday. He was born Christmas Day and while it should have been such a happy event, it was ironically bittersweet. It was the first event that my Nonna would miss due from here on out.

I have hosted Christmas Day at my home since my eldest child, Dante, was born. Today is that day. My husband, Brandon, and I are shocked awake when Dante runs into my room, “Mommy, let’s go see if Santa ate the cookies and milk we left out for him.” We run into Gino’s room and pick him up on the way to the kitchen. The cookies and milk are gone, MAGIC! Then we run into the living room and witness Dante’s eyes light up in response to all the toys. He looks back at us in disbelief. Brandon and I smile. Dante opens all his presents and plays while I put the finishing touches on all the dishes I started two days prior, finish all the sides and appetizers, and swiftly clean the house in preparation for my family. My excitement builds.

Soon, the entire family arrives, including Nonna. Frankie and Marisa pick her up from the nursing home and bring her to the house. My dear Nonna comes in and we all say “Hi”, looking at her so very closely, almost like a mom looking at her child to detect the signs of an oncoming illness. We all hope this will be a good day with Nonna . . . but then it begins. My uncle informs us the nursing home didn’t have her ready. My aunt adds that the nursing home didn’t give her the correct medications. So now we have thoughts, concerns and actions that need to be taken care of. But we move on since it is Christmas. My impulse is always to act immediately. Today, I hope it can wait.

We sit down and eat. I had pureed food so Nonna can enjoy exactly what we are eating. She spits a lot now which I have learned is from her dementia. It’s tempting to correct her, to tell her to stop. I have learned that it doesn’t matter what I say anymore. The disease has taken over and it is slowly taking my Nonna away. We put Italian folk songs on and dance and sing in my grandfather’s memory as we do every time we get together. My mom and I run over to my grandmother grabbing her hands and waving them back and forth – a silly dance with her. She smiles and our hearts warm up. I begin to clean up. As it grows dark outside we prepare Nonna to leave. It strikes me that I may as well be dressing my toddler.

As my mother and I walk her to the front few steps I feel Nonna’s weight bearing down on my arm. I yell to Frankie to grab a chair, “She’s gonna fall!” Just in time we get her to sit on the chair half in and half out of the front doorway. I kneel down, look into my grandmother’s eyes and realize she’s getting that glazed look. I tell my family she’s losing her color. My mother cries. My grandmother begins convulsing. I sit there and hold her knowing that this will pass after she vomits. This time, she spares me this indignity. We get her inside and on the wheelchair and affix the ramp to the front stairway my mother had bought years ago thinking this time would never come. With effort, we help my Nonna into the car and Frankie drives her back to the nursing home. Once again, we now have a lot to do: We will call the nursing home so they can call a neurologist first thing tomorrow morning, question the nurses about the severity of her convulsions when we are not there, and call her other doctors to ask why this is happening. Does she have a UTI? Has something else changed? Is this an indication that her dementia is worsening?

In the meantime, we do our research as a family and find that with dementia sometimes too much activity and glimpses of memories can trigger episodes such as these. But, soon I will host the next family event, Gino’s 1st birthday. I so very much want my Nonna there to celebrate with us. We are devastated but agree as a family that we can no longer take her out of the nursing home to attend events just so we feel better about the situation. Family events have become torture for her. Now we realize that we have entered yet another chapter in this terrifying part of life.