Holiday Dinners and Tattoos: The Story of Tammy Murwin

By Gabe Coleman

Tammy Murwin has always said that she’d never get a tattoo. But her mother, Becky, never thought she would find herself with Alzheimer’s disease, either.

“You know what—I don’t even know how it came about,” Tammy said of the Alzheimer’s tattoo. She proudly wears it in honor of her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease less than a decade before. Her brother had gotten a tattoo earlier for Becky as well, but it took a few more years for purple ink to reach Tammy’s skin.

“I don’t like pain, and it’s not my thing.” Tammy laughed, remembering a conversation she had with her sister, “But, we were actually joking about it one day, and I don’t know that she knew I was serious, but, my youngest daughter, her and I worked together, and she actually drew the tattoo.” Now, she and her sister have matching tattoos of a purple ribbon interlocked with the Alzheimer’s Association’s symbol, design courtesy of Tammy’s daughter.

Alzheimer’s disease has affected Tammy’s side of the family for generations, so it’s only appropriate that her youngest daughter joined the fight against the disease. In fact, ever since Becky’s father was diagnosed, it has been a family effort.

Becky’s sister was the main caregiver for her own father, and now, Becky’s five children care for her. This care includes Tammy and her sister’s participation in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

“This year we plan to join the Walk in-person as we truly missed it last year.” For the past four years, Tammy, her sister, her husband, and others have functioned as a team in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and Tammy’s been a Grand Champion Fundraiser each year. Plus, Tammy’s two kids also find ways to help out.

“My mom and dad used to live right next door in the house I grew up in, so my kids have been around them the whole time.” Her children help with the laundry or accompany Becky on trips to the grocery store and help her shop. Even though the kids don’t visit their grandmother as much as they used to, Becky surely appreciates the care her family has provided, both in their company and their ink—even if her initial response to said ink was a bit shaky.

“She was like, ‘Are you crazy?’ ” Becky remembered her mother’s reaction, “And I said, ‘Well, I was thinking that when I was sitting in the chair, Mama!’ ” Since then, all but one of Becky’s five children have gotten a tattoo for her, and Tammy suspects the gestures mean a lot to her mother, even if she doesn’t say it.

Becky was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when she was fifty-nine years of age. “My mom’s [Alzheimer’s] is actually a lot different than others, where she still has most of her mind, but she’s lost her bodily functions.” Becky can barely walk, and she cannot feed herself. She also struggles with verbal communication. “I think the hardest thing is she knows in her mind what’s wrong.” 

“We used to think she was, I don’t know, joking around, or whatever, but she would try and put a jacket on and it’d be wrong side out or upside down.”  The real worry came when Becky, who was an accountant, lost her ability to operate her 10-key. After testing at Mayo Clinic, the results came back positive.

“We were all kind of shocked, because like I said, her memory is still there.” Becky is best with recalling the distant past, but she does have trouble with more recent happenings; sometimes she can remember only pieces of a story that her family has to finish for her. She also cannot always distinguish reality from fantasy.

“That’s another thing she’s really struggled with —they call them hallucinations, but I don’t know that they’re hallucinations. I think she really believes there were soldiers in her bedroom, that the bathroom is her break-room at work, and those types of things.”

Seeing anyone suffering from Alzheimer’s is strange and difficult, but it has been especially so for Tammy’s family because of Becky’s previously large role in running the household. “My mom’s always been the one that has done everything.” Becky did the bills, the house cleaning, and she cooked every family meal on holidays. Now, the family brings the holidays to Becky. “We all take turns. Somebody’s going to make the main dish, and then sides, and desserts and breads. We just all bring it together.”

“I’ve always said that my mom’s an amazing woman. Strong, loving. Kind. Generous…and I still see that. If I could be half the woman she is, I would be happy.”

To participate in Walk to End Alzheimer’s, visit alz.org/walk.

Published by Alzheimer's Association, Florida

The Alzheimer’s Association is a worldwide voluntary health organization dedicated to Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Our three Florida chapters serve all 67 counties with education and support in addition to raising funds for research. Our mission is to lead the way to end Alzheimer's and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's and all other dementia.

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