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To remember the forgotten

Caleb Cobbin | Sunday, November 10, 2013

I am usually a pretty private person. Therefore, it is hard for me, even with some of my best friends, to say exactly how I am feeling. This story, however, is important enough to tell anyone, despite my private tendencies:
I went to my South Bend home – about 10 minutes away from campus – to visit my family, eat and reluctantly switch out my summer clothes for winter ones. My grandma is a substitute teacher, so she was not at the house that afternoon. This left only my mom and my grandpa. I fixed myself some food and chatted with my mom. Throughout the visit, I kept thinking, “This house seems different.” The garden and the front yard appeared severely unkempt and neglected, ridden with weeds and fallen leaves. The large mirror in the dining room still had not been put on the wall since we painted the interior walls this summer. There were no children’s voices reverberating up and down the hallways of the house. It felt unlike the home in which I grew up. I quickly buried the feelings as they sprung up in my head. Change is a part of life. I had to come to terms with that.
As I was leaving, I set my bag down and walked up to my grandparents’ room, where my grandpa was sleeping. I watched him for a while. He was much skinnier than my childhood memories painted in my mind. Even during the two weeks since I had last seen him, the stern, kind man who taught me the importance of my faith, work and education seemed to slowly shrink from my eyes. His gray hair seemed thinner, his bones protruded from his skin and he wasn’t wearing his teeth. I gently woke him up. He smiled at me and began to talk. He made no coherent sentences, just incomprehensible murmuring and chatter, but he smiled when he saw me and continued to smile and talk until I left. I counted that as an extreme blessing. My grandpa still finds joy when I sit and talk with him.
 Alzheimer’s disease and dementia currently plague more than 5 million Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Association website. I realize now that my grandpa’s sickness has a direct correlation to the anxieties and uncertainties I professed earlier. Those simple duties around the house, which he always did with pride and diligence, fall by the wayside. With my twin brother and me in school, and my grandpa slowly fading, the house we knew and loved is simply not the same home.
This month is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Caregiver Month. This month honors my grandpa and my grandma, respectively, as they fulfill the conjugal marriage vows they professed more than 55 years ago. This disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. One in three seniors die with this disease or other forms of dementia. My grandpa is one of them, and I am sure we all can think of some friend, loved one or acquaintance that also struggles with this. Unfortunately, some Alzheimer’s patients have no family to visit or to take care of them like my grandpa does. Some seniors die and suffer alone.
To sum up, I write these words not to depress you or to garner sympathy. I say this to raise awareness. Reach out in a special way to your friends and family who have been touched by the hand of Alzheimer’s disease this week. Do not forget them. There is an unimaginable love and beauty found in simple expressions of care and compassion, and to share in one person’s suffering in love is to share in the suffering of humanity. This, friends, is the greatest gift we can give to one another.

Caleb Cobbin is a senior at the University of Notre Dame. He can be contacted at ccobbin@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.