Butte County teen writes essay to honor grandfather

Mia, a
ninth grader who lives in Butte County, lost her grandfather, Walter, to
Alzheimer’s last summer. When her mother shared the news with her, Mia felt
like a bomb exploded in her life. Mia channeled that feeling into a beautiful
essay she wrote for her English class. She shares the memory of her grandfather
and suggestions for others who have a loved one living with dementia.

Pa, who had Alzheimer's, Mia and her brothers
Pa, Mia and her brothers

Spending time with Pa
Walter, who Mia called “Pa,” was a patient and genuine man. He told his grandkids bedtime stories, went snorkeling in the lake and brought them special gifts. “He made every person around him feel like his best friend right away,” said Mia. “He was that solid friend that would help you with whatever you needed.”

Pa
was known for his ability to share a good story. “We would spend the whole day waiting
for bedtime in order to hear the stories,” shared Mia. “You never knew what
story he’d come up with this time.”

When
Walter was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014, his stories went in a new
direction. Mia said, “He would tell us stories about when he was an ironworker,
and all the dangerous stuff he did back then. It was easier for him to remember
the past than things that had happened more recently.”

Writing an essay
Walter passed away in the summer of 2019. While it wasn’t unexpected, it came as a blow to Mia and her family. It made such an impact on Mia that when her ninth grade English teacher asked the class to write about something that affected their lives, she chose to write about losing her grandfather to Alzheimer’s.

“I
made a list and wrote down moments that were important,” shared Mia. “I was
nervous to write about Pa because I wasn’t sure I would do him justice. My mom
said, ‘You won’t know if you can write it if you don’t try,’ so I wrote it.”

Mia
received an A on her assignment and shared the story with her family. Her
grandmother, Walter’s wife, was so proud of Mia, she shared her essay with the
Alzheimer’s Association.

Walter, who was living with Alzheimer's his wife and their grandkids at Christmas
Walter, his wife Nancy and their grandkids

Mia’s essay
Our staff were impressed and moved by Mia’s essay. We have included a short excerpt below. You can read the full essay here.

… I saw
him telling us stories, far past a bedtime my mother would have deemed
acceptable, stories he made up as he went. Tales of sasquatches in the forest
with families and drama more endearing than
Friends. Asking us questions about
the names for his characters or what they should have for dinner. Sometimes he fell
asleep and so we would shake him, willing him to finish the story. Or at least
the chapter.

I saw him
snorkeling in the lake, with his circle waist life jacket and my brothers
grabbing on and being dragged alongside him as they all searched for something
other than little minnows and crawdads. I saw him covering my eyes with his
strong, gentle hands and dropping a pink and purple unicorn pillow pet on my
lap, the day I stayed home sick from school at their house.

I didn’t
see him calling me Lisa (my mom’s name) and I didn’t see how my Grandma
wouldn’t tell him when it was her birthday or their anniversary, because she
knew it would make him feel bad for forgetting. Because even when he was sick
with Alzheimer’s, he was still the most patient and generous person I have ever
met. In those moments, after the bomb, all I saw was the times I chose to
remember him by….

Asking questions about the past
Mia wants others to know that just because a person has Alzheimer’s, it doesn’t mean they’re a completely different person. Mia says, “It’s still the person you love.”

She recommends
having compassion. It doesn’t help to remind your loved one of what they’ve
forgotten. Instead you should ask them about what they can remember.

“He could
remember so many stories from his past,” said Mia “We’d ask him about when
Grandma was younger or his job. I think it was a nice feeling for him to be
able to remember something.”

Mom and daughter team up
Mia is lucky to be surrounded by a supportive family, especially her mom Lisa. Whenever Pa called Mia by her mom’s name, or when she was worried about him, Mia knew she could lean on her mom for support and advice.

Mia and her mom also joined together to volunteer at their local Walk to End Alzheimer’s. “We volunteered at the event last year,” said Mia. “We helped with set-up by hanging up signs. I’m really looking forward to walking the route this year.”

Alzheimer’s disease can be a difficult subject for kids and teens. Learning more about it can help families learn what to expect. Find more resources to help kids and teens at alz.org/kids.

Sign up today for your local Walk to End Alzheimer’s at alz.org/walk. If you’re interested in becoming a Walk volunteer click here.

Learn more:

  • Walk to End Alzheimer’s
  • Become a volunteer
  • Alzheimer’s resources for kids and teens
  • Information on caregiving
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