She woke up early, before the sun would come up to tend to her garden, take a walk around the block, and come back to make breakfast for us. I would hear her every morning, walking through the house and quietly opening our doors to make sure we were still asleep. It was natural instinct for her, to make sure her family was always safe and taken care of.
She loved comfortable clothes, often wearing khakis and long sleeve turtlenecks, for fear of getting too tanned. She also was the first person I knew to rock bucket/fisherman's hats. Her style was simple, practical and she never asked for anything more. She never wanted any of us to spend money on her for materialistic things. Instead, all she ever asked for was our time. I spent countless afternoons in the summer at my grandmother's house. Growing up, it was the cool place to be. She protected us against our parents, fed us home cooked meals, watched "I Love Lucy" with us, and made the best pot of coffee there was. Not to mention that she was extremely resourceful so when we ran out of glue for arts and crafts, she simply went over to the rice cooker and somehow turned leftover rice into glue for us.
My grandmother was the foundation of our family, and it was only recently that I heard about the trek my family took to get here. They immigrated from Malaysia in 1980, my grandmother led the way with her 4 children, having to leave her sick husband behind (who later joined them a month later in California). My grandma was a tough cookie, I never saw her shed a single tear, even after my grandfather passed away in 2000. Her resilience and determination to enjoy life to the fullest was motivating, her fight through her very last years still inspires and pushes me to do my very best - for her.
In 2012, a couple of years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's, my grandmother took her final breath with us by her hospital bedside. She beat the doctor's odds when they estimated how long she'd fight through the disease, heck she even proved all of us wrong in how strong she still was. I remember my uncle telling me that she attempted to lock him out of the house, as she had a moment of unclarity and freaked out as he tried to get into the house. Her 4'10" self managed to push a full size couch from the living room to the front door (about 3 feet), to block him from opening the door. He eventually had to use the back entrance, but I laugh every time I think about it. She was so tiny! How was she so strong?
There are very few things I regret in life, as I try to make a lesson out of every failure that occurs but this one still haunts me to this day. The last few years of my grandmother's life was spent at home, with my relatives taking care of her and even my younger sister took on the task of being one of her caretakers. I was in college, working full-time and actually had a 2nd job, just to make ends meat. I was overwhelmed, swamped, always exhausted and was never up for the drive to see her. I was also in extreme denial that she had Alzheimer's. Her mind was always active, doing crossword puzzles and she never lost her composure in hectic situations. It didn't make sense to me that she had Alzheimer's, how could she?
Within the first year of the diagnosis, she forgot who I was. Me, her first born granddaughter, the oldest in the family. She would stare blankly at me, call me by my cousin's name or my younger sisters. I remember laughing it off, but secretly dying inside. It hurt too much to realize that it was only going to get worse from that day on. So instead, I avoided the situation completely and kept busy - up until she passed away.
I'm not good with confrontations and I didn't allow myself to mourn. Well, I wouldn't allow myself to lose time over the grieving process so I hid all that I felt for years. Naturally, the feelings resurfaced and the guilt set in. I regretted not spending more time with the woman who always had time for me.
For the last few months, I've felt nothing but guilt. I thought of ways to honor her properly, at least in regards to what I could do in my career and industry. Sharing my story about her is just a small step. It's the first step. I collaborated with A.JAFFE to customize a Maps by A.JAFFE necklace, which shows a map replication of where her house used to be in Long Beach. Needless to say, this is my most cherished piece of jewelry and I'm beyond happy of how it turned out.
This year, I am participating in the "End to Alzheimer's Walk" in honor of my grandmother. This is the first of many walks I plan on taking and I am continuously thinking of more ways to bring further awareness to Alzheimer's. It is not a normal part of aging, it is the most common form of dementia. It doesn't just happen to a specified age group, but it does worsen over time. There is NO cure yet.
As an influencer, it's important (to me) to discuss and start conversations on subjects that I'm passionate about. In this case, it's also very personal for me and if you know me, you know I have no problem talking about a lot of personal topics. Expect more to come, but in the meantime, educate yourself and see how you can help as well by visiting the Alzheimer's Assocation's website.
Oh and if you'd like, please donate to support my walk in November <3