Mary Jo Bellner Swartzberg
“You know, I was the first one to hold you after you were born,” my Aunt Ginny said when I called her to say that we were coming to Florida and that we wanted to stop by to see her and then take her out to lunch. Ginny was the second wife of my paternal Uncle Fred. Fred and Ginny moved to Florida when my Uncle Fred retired from the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Fred had passed away a few years prior. The only problem with Ginny’s statement was that I did not think that she and Fred were married when I was born … but I pushed that thought out of my mind.
Ginny seemed happy at the prospect of our coming to see her and, further, to take her out to lunch. As a child, when Fred and Ginny would visit our family, she would always bring me an Almond Joy candy bar.
I gave her the details of our Florida plans, in anticipation of seeing her when we arrived.
Fred and Ginny were, to say the least, a very handsome couple. Ginny was Mrs. Lucas County of 1949. Fred, well, was just handsome in his Ohio State Highway Patrol uniform. Had they been living now, they would probably be considered a power couple.
We pulled up in front of Ginny’s home, a Florida-esq-type bungalow. We knocked, and after a while, Ginny opened the door. We hugged and shared how great it was to see each other. And then we noticed …
Ginny did not look the same—she looked unkempt and disheveled. She also seemed preoccupied. She asked us to come in and sit down. As we walked in, there were newspapers on the floors—with dog feces in various places. The home smelled.
Wanting to leave the home and go to lunch, we started asking questions about where she wanted to go. At that point, she said, “Oh, no. I cannot go to lunch with you!” We implored her several times, and then she relented. But she said, “I have to get a hat.” She left the room and came back with a very soiled sun visor that she immediately wore.
We drove around until we found a family restaurant.
We looked at the menu, and Ginny seemed, again, preoccupied. “What do you want?” I asked. “Oh, I’ll just have some soup.”
As we were sitting there, Ginny was constantly looking over one shoulder, then the other. And she was rocking back and forth. She was not engaged with us in any way; she hardly touched her soup.
When we took her home, we said our goodbyes, and I knew that I would never see her again.
Within a year, Ginny would be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and had to be placed in a memory care unit. My special memory of her giving me Almond Joy bars when I was a child all of a sudden became a distant but precious memory.
More than 6 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s. An estimated 6.7 million Americans ages 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s in 2023. Seventy-three percent are ages 75 or older. About one in nine people ages 65 and older (10.7%) has Alzheimer’s.