I was 15 years old when I found out my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I had heard of it. I knew about it from friends who had grandparents who suffered through it (and I’d seen The Notebook a million times), but nothing can ever prepare you for what comes after the diagnosis.
I tried to convince myself over and over that she would suffer less because there would come a point that she would no longer know that she was sick. But I didn’t realize that she would always suffer. She would suffer in the confusion of not knowing who she was around. She would suffer when she was unable to feed herself, bathe herself, or even walk by herself. And as her family, we would suffer watching the matriarch of our family, someone who was always so strong and who took care of everyone, fade before our eyes.
My grandmother gave Alzheimer’s quite the fight. She never let it dim her light. No matter how bad the day was, she always found a way to smile, and made the rest of us smile around her. However it was always difficult. I moved away to California to pursue my dreams at 17, which is what she wanted for me, but I couldn’t get over the fact that I wouldn’t be there for her as she progressed in the disease. I called her every day, FaceTime with her and came home as often as I could. The heartbreak set in every time I left home, because I never knew if that was the last time I would see her again. And every time I said “I love you” to her in the last few years, my mom would have to tell her to, “Say I love you, too.”
The last time I saw my grandmother was during Christmas break of 2014. I don’t know why, but I had an overwhelming feeling that it would be the last time. I went up to her room where she sat in her chair most of the time, and I knelt beside her and held onto her hands. I knew at this point the disease had taken hold of her so much that I could literally say anything to her and it wouldn’t confuse her or necessarily register. So I sat there and said my final goodbye.
I thanked her for shaping me into the woman I am today, for her never-ending love, for her support, and I told her she would always be my angel. I looked at her and said, “I love you Vovo.” She smiled at me, and without anyone telling her to, and without hesitation she said, “I love you, too.” At that moment, I knew I had to let her go, and I promised her that I would do all that I could to find a cure.
I lost my grandmother, my best friend, on April 2, 2015. Alzheimer’s may have taken her mind and her strength, but it could never take away her love, her kindness and her beautiful heart. Life is about creating ever-lasting memories, and my wish for the world is that we all are able to remember those memories when it’s our time to leave this earth. I will spend the rest of my life trying to help find a cure.
About the Author: Katie Stevens is an actress and singer best known for starring in MTV’s scripted series “Faking It.” She is an Alzheimer’s Association celebrity champion, working to raise awareness for the cause in honor of her grandmother who she lost to the disease. Katie also serves on the Hilarity for Charity committee.