Naomi was many things to many people but to me, she was my Grammy. She grew up in Cristobal, Panama where she met the love of her life, Leonard. After Len returned from WWII, they traveled the country before settling in Las Vegas, Nevada. Len joined the police department and Naomi became a mother, and eventually a grandmother.
Grammy was an active mom, a devout catholic and a pillar of her community. She was a Girl Scout troop leader for her daughter and cheered on her son in the desert as he often competed in the regional motocross circuit. As active as she was, she never missed Sunday Mass and always made time for her family, friends and neighbors.
You can’t live in the Entertainment Capital of the World without enjoying a few shows. Grammy’s eyes sparkled after an evening with Liberace at the Rivera and she got all shook up when Elvis came to town. She especially enjoyed hanging with the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin & Sammy Davis Jr.) in the Copa Room at the Sands.
After her kids graduated high school, Naomi began working as a secretary and taking classes to keep her mind sharp. When her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Naomi resigned from her position and invited her mom to come live with her and her husband. After being the caregiver for her mom, she became the caregiver for her husband when he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
Losing your mom and husband isn’t easy for anyone, at any age. Grammy was comforted by her family, friends and neighbors. She became more involved in her church and would meet friends for lunch several times a week and she never missed a day walking through the neighborhood to get her exercise. She also loved reading crime novels, watching her programs, swimming in her pool and talking to her daughter on the phone.
One day, Grammy didn’t show up for her regularly scheduled lunch. Her friends were concerned and went to check on her. They followed the path she likely would have taken in case she had been in an accident. What they found was much worse than they imagined. Her car was abandoned and she was nowhere to be seen.
Each of her friends went in different directions and, amazingly, one of them found her. She was walking aimlessly, lost in a city, near her home, where she had lived for nearly 60 years. She was scared and confused. She didn’t know where she was at or where she was going. They called my mom and my mom called me.
We all lived in different states but dropped everything to be with her. We knew she was an amazing woman, but it wasn’t until she came to live with us, that we realized just how remarkable she truly was. After a short period, we realized she would be far more comfortable in her home instead of ours so we temporarily relocated to her home in Las Vegas.
I would accompany her on her daily walk through the neighborhood and joined her lunch group. When she could no longer walk, we took the route in her wheelchair. When she could no longer swim, we hung out at the edge of the pool. I would read her the newest crime novels and watch her programs with her. It is in those moments I came to appreciate just how special my Grammy was.
My Grammy was a great story teller. During the 5 years I was her caregiver, she would tell the most amazing stories, over and over again. All the stories were from the same period in her life; a time long before I was born. These were stories she had never shared with the family. She even told one story in Spanish. We were stunned because we didn’t know she spoke Spanish. Imagine our surprise!
Over time, she shared fewer and fewer stories and they were less detailed than before. Some days she struggled to find the words. Other days, she struggled to say anything at all. She eventually lost the ability to speak all together. From that day on, I longed for her to tell me another story, any story. I would gladly help fill in the details. Sadly, she never did.
I realized she had shared the stories with me so many times that I could now do the remembering for her. So, day after day, we would sit and talk. I would tell her the same stories she shared with us, over and over again. I just hope she enjoyed hearing them as much as we did.
Even though she lost the ability to speak, she could still communicate. She was always good at letting you know what she thought. Sometimes it was a growl or a grunt. Other times it was just a look but you knew what she was thinking. She still smiled when her daughter called; She would scowl if you did something she didn’t like; Blink a few extra times as if to say thank you for something; She would gently press and hold her forehead against yours to say I love you.
I miss our girl days. I miss doing her hair and her nails. I miss our story times. I miss the good days. I miss the bad days. I miss her every day and, a year and a half after her passing, it still hurts not having her around. I miss my Grammy.
Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. Let’s work together to EndAlz!