By Adriana Garcia
Growing up, I remember my family would always visit in the summertime. Whether they were coming from Venezuela or traveling domestically, we always had visitors. My great-aunt would always visit with her daughter and their family. I remember smelling her perfume from a mile away and hearing her witty comments toward everyone.
Aida was probably one of the most tough-skinned people I met in my childhood, but she was always kind and well intentioned. One summer, she visited and something seemed off. I remember the first time I heard the word “Alzheimer’s” was the night she decided to leave our house claiming she had to “check in with her patients” (she was a nurse in Venezuela, but moved to the U.S. before I was born in 1999). I was about six or seven years old.
Since that night, everyone began treating her differently and she would call people different names. I always thought these were little jokes she started to keep things interesting. Sometimes, Aida would call my older sister “Cruz Maria” because she looked exactly like her sister when they were children. While it seemed like fun and games, I started noticing how differently people started treating her. It was as if she could no longer do things for herself. I always wanted to play board games with her, so I tried not treating her differently – mostly because I didn’t understand what was happening. Whenever we played, she was present in the moment.
Towards the end of that trip, Aida called me into the guest room and sat me down. Still not knowing what was happening, I sat there assuming she was going to ask for an opinion on her outfit or bring her “summer gift” (every summer she would bring my sisters and I little gifts from the theme parks). With a deep sigh, she attempted to explain Alzheimer’s disease to a child. It felt almost as though it were a goodbye, and all I could do was hold her hand. She thanked me for the games we played and said, “While I may not remember your name or who you are all the time, my love will always be with you.” Aida then went to her suitcase and handed me a little bumble bee brooch she used to wear all the time, gifting it to me in the hopes that I could keep a little piece of her. At the time, I had absolutely no clue what was happening, but all I could do in that moment was hug her and keep that brooch.
As a child, nobody expects you to become a caretaker. All I could do was sit on the sidelines and try to process what was going on. My great-aunt battled Alzheimer’s for about 10 years, which was surprising for her caretakers, who thought she would only last about a year or two. Since her passing, I’ve been trying to learn more and support the cause of the Alzheimer’s Association in any way I can to honor her. Now, I find volunteering for the Tampa Walk to End Alzheimer’s has helped me feel connected to her and keep her legacy.
Adriana Garcia is raising funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research through this year’s Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Learn more about how you can join the fight at alz.org/walk.