Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Alzheimer’s Awareness Month: For My Grandma, Jenny

The memory is as razor-sharp as the day it happened many years ago. I walked into my parent’s living room and saw her, my sweet grandma Jenny. She sat on a high-backed wooden chair in the middle of the room, her wrists tied to the armrests with dishtowels.  Her uncomprehending eyes followed me. She didn’t speak. She hadn’t said anything beyond nonsensical mutterings for a long time.

I remember stopping at the sight. It hurt like a fist to my chest. Whether I said anything, I don’t recall. We had all noticed subtle signs years earlier—confusion and forgotten names. Maybe we were all too busy, wrapped up in our own lives. Grandma was just getting older. My grandfather, John, was a proud, strong man. He never let on that anything was wrong even as grandma became more withdrawn. Then his own health failed him and my grandma’s condition became obvious. By then it was too late. Her dementia had turned debilitating and violent.

This all unfolded in the mid 1980s. We didn't understand dementia and Alzheimer’s like we do today. I encourage all my friends to know the warning signs for their loved ones:

* Memory loss. * Repetition.  * Language problems. * Personality changes. * Disorientation and confusion

I wish we could have done more. I come from a proud Italian heritage where family always comes first. Family takes care of family. My parent’s did a wonderful job caring for grandma until the end. We all pitched in. When grandma passed, I had the clearest image of her soaring on wings like eagles through the clouds. I imagined her running like a child, FINALLY free and full of joy.

Time has eased the pain as time always does. I cling to that image of grandma just as I cling to the good memories: sitting around the kitchen table with the salami and capicola, the cheese and wine, Christmas Eve and the Feast of the Seven Fishes, homemade pasta drying on the dinning room table, homemade ravioli, grandma in her apron, always smiling. Those are the memories I will always cherish.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day four years ago…a moment I will never forget

On a special Veterans Day four years ago, the 304th Public Affairs Detachment, based out of Seattle, WA, came home from a year’s deployment in Afghanistan. My son, Jason, finally came home. Jason said at it was a moment he'll never forget. For our family, it meant his seat at the holiday dinner table wouldn’t be empty any longer. We wouldn’t have to wait for those brief weekly phone calls from halfway around the world.

For many of you who don’t know him, I thought I’d introduce my Army veteran, Jason Venturini. Jason served two 12-month tours overseas. First in Iraq with the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, Pittsburgh, PA. Then in Afghanistan with 304th Public Affairs Detachment.  

Mark: I know you weren't in a combat unit, but for you and other Soldiers in your units, what was the hardest part of deployment?
Jason: There are many ways to approach this question so I’ll give two separate, yet equally relevant answers. 1) While overseas, especially in my second deployment I was more worried about issues at home: my family, friends grieving for lost loved ones. I actually felt a lot of guilt over there. 2) I will always say that the hardest part of a deployment is coming home. Less than 1% of the American population has ever experienced combat deployment, but they are always ready to give their opinions about you or the war, usually both. The hardest thing is truly coming back to an unsympathetic culture.