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My Auntie Honey
Today, we know that the chronic stress of care-giving can shave years from someone's life. I've no doubt that this is exactly what happened to Auntie Honey.
-- Nancy Wurtzel

by Nancy Wurtzel

Evelyn, one of my dad's older sisters, had a shrill voice and a big personality. When I was young, someone in the family gave her the unlikely nickname, "Auntie Honey," and perhaps because she was far from sweet, the nickname stuck.

I recall Auntie Honey harping constantly about almost everything. She complained about the weather, her husband, the cost of groceries and especially her mother-my grandmother. Grandma was a sweet, slight woman who had lost her mind and didn't know where she had left it.

Auntie Honey would rave, "She can't remember a damn thing and it's driving me crazy!"

Since Auntie Honey had no children and lived just down the hill from Grandma, the caregiving duties fell squarely on her middle-aged, stout shoulders.

Indeed, Grandma, who had some form of dementia, needed constant attention. She lived in a state of mild fog, never knowing what day it was or even the names of her own children and grandchildren.

Auntie Honey's five siblings were all busy with spouses, children and work. They had absolutely no idea how difficult it was to care for someone with severe memory loss, and they probably did not want to know. It was simply easier to let their childless sister handle the burden.

The years dragged on and my grandmother needed more and more care. Auntie Honey's complaints took a new turn, and I remember her frequently wailing, "Grandma's going to outlive me!"

Finally, little Grandma died quietly in her sleep at age 89-more than a decade after dementia had stolen her mind.

Nine months later, Auntie Honey, only 65, was dead of a heart attack.

Now that I'm a caregiver myself, I have an understanding of what Auntie Honey faced all those years ago. She had little help or support for her efforts. Not much was even understood about "senility," as it was called back then, and caregivers were often overwhelmed and had nowhere to turn.

Today, we know that the chronic stress of caregiving can shave years from someone's life. I've no doubt that this is exactly what happened to Auntie Honey. She coped as best she could and vented by complaining loudly to anyone within earshot.

Sadly, no one really listened.

When I think of Auntie Honey, I feel determined to shine a spotlight on this horrible disease and determined not to allow Alzheimer's disease to shave years from my own life.

Please remember the caregivers who are in your life. They need your gratitude and, more importantly, your support and your help. Don't sit back and let one person carry an enormous burden. We all need to participate when a loved one has dementia.

Nancy Wurtzel is a writer and a caregiver to her mother, who has Alzheimer's disease. She lives in St. Louis Park and blogs at Dating Dementia, www.datingdementia.com

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