The Promise I Made to My Grandfather


I sat patiently at the bench, waiting for my family to arrive. The smell of incense filled the room, overtaking dozens of flower bouquets that embellished every corner. My young cousin took hold of my hand, looking for me to say words of wisdom. I could only offer, “He wouldn’t want you to be sad, so stay strong.”

Let me tell you a story of a man. He was a refugee from the Vietnam War who toiled and struggled to deliver his 12 children to the land of the free. Years after finally reaching America, his eldest daughter gave birth to two children: my brother and me. Growing up with my grandfather, I was taught many lessons, though I did not understand at the time, and sadly, to my regret, I overlooked them.

My young years growing up in our small house seemed to pass by in a flash. I faintly remembered the kindness of my grandfather. He would often buy gifts for me from the dollar store and would feed the neighborhood strays who wandered into our home. Young and naïve, I believed he bought all these items because he was wealthy, not knowing he collected recyclables for the money.

My family arrived and I obediently followed my orders, but my eyes often strayed to what lay between the two flower columns.

Years passed by and I no longer lived with my grandparents. My mother faced health issues and my brother and I were taught to be more independent as my mother needed her rest. My Vietnamese fluency began deteriorating as I only spoke English for school. I gradually lost my ability to converse with my grandfather but he tried his hardest to strike conversations with me using simple Vietnamese terms. Because of his patience and kindness, we could still hold conversations.

After hours of praying, each person was to take a rose from a basket. I gently picked out a white rose.

Camping and traveling with my grandfather, I believed the good times would never end, but like the leaves which bloomed beautifully in the spring, eventually it would fall. I remember the chaotic day when my grandmother had a stroke. Thankfully she survived her ordeal but things were never the same. My grandfather, however, stayed strong and by her side through every step. I noticed he started forgetting simple things but I believed it to be an effect of old age; I didn’t know what he was suffering from, and like my other relatives, I focused on my grandmother’s health instead.

We formed a line, with me in front of my cousins. As I watched my relatives give my grandfather a rose, I felt a churning feeling in my heart. My grandmother passed by in tears with my mother comforting her.

As the year passed, my mother told me stories of my grandfather’s condition and even I could see the deterioration of his mind each time he visited our home. He seemed lost from touch with the present time and told us the same stories about his childhood over and over.

Gradually, his friends stopped visiting him. It was too hard for them to bear his condition. He would always tell the same stories, not knowing he already told them so many times before. Family became all he had.

I reached my grandfather, bowed with respect towards him and lightly offered him my rose. “I’ll always be your Chuot,” I whispered.

Along with my growing age, my grandfather’s condition escalated too. He was more childlike, questioning several things, forgetting the purpose of household items, having bathroom accidents, and forgetting to do simple tasks such as flushing the toilet. Worst of all, with each new visit, I watched him forget my relatives. I watched my cousins cry when he forgot them. I watched the sadness on my aunts’ faces when he asked who they were. I felt special for he still remembered me, his Chuot—his little mouse—a nickname I used to loathe in the past.

My time was approaching. My eldest uncle went up first, then my father, then my uncle-in-law, and so on. Tears were shed, tissues pulled from their boxes, and noses blown. I could hear my young cousins break down into heavy sobs as I held in my own tears. “He wouldn’t want to see me crying,” I repeated to myself.

He always tried to be helpful to his children, attempting to clean up around the house, but due to his memory loss, he often misplaced items. My family was patient at first, but with each item disappearing, it grew harder. One day, my uncle’s glasses were misplaced. My uncle’s patience crumpled as he asked my grandfather where he placed it. Though he forgot many things, my grandfather’s pride was intact. He believed his own family thought of him as a thief and he grew furious. He started to become more frustrated with his life as his condition consumed him.

My uncle motioned me to come to the front. I realized, too late, that I forgot my speech at home. I grew anxious as I made my way to the front, the clacking of my heels speeding my pulse. I was handed the microphone. With one look at my grandfather, I turned to my audience and delivered my feelings.

He finally forgot my face. I greeted him at the doorway of my home as I usually did, but this time was different. “Whose child are you?” I felt a pang in my heart but I still forced a smile and replied simply, “I am Chuot,” in hopes he would remember the nickname. To my happiness his face lit up with remembrance and he hugged me like usual but our relationship had changed. He only remembered the little girl who he bought Barbies for, not the current me.

I was complimented after the ceremony, but I didn’t feel content. My uncle-in-law walked up to me, and he, too, congratulated me, but afterwards he looked to my grandfather who lay in the distance, and said, “Your grandfather was a great man. If only more people knew about him.”

I was cleaning my closet one day when one of my stuffed animals fell on top of my head—my old friend Wolfie—a souvenir from my grandfather. My old memories of the Yellowstone trip came back. I remembered climbing to the top of Arch Canyon, only my grandfather and me since my parents were too tired to climb. Reaching the top, we viewed a breathtaking vision. The valley seemed to be painted with the colors of the sunset. I was sad to leave, but my grandfather promised we would come back in 10 years and climb it again. As I held Wolfie close, I looked at the calendar. Half a year left till our 10-year promise.

Later that week, however, I discovered our promise would never be kept. He was diagnosed with bone cancer.

That night, as my relatives dined and my cousins played together, I secluded myself in an empty room, staring at the moon outside the window. I closed my teary eyes, pictured my grandfather and promised him, “I’ll make you proud.”

My relatives traveled far to visit my grandfather in his final days. Though he had forgotten everyone, he was happy to have so much company, to always have someone holding his hand as he lay bedridden and to tell him that all those around him were his children and grandchildren. There was a time when all of us gathered around him and though he could barely create expressions, a smile peeked from his lips. I wish I could have said at that time, “Look, aren’t you proud? All of your children, all of your grandchildren, we’re successful. We have done what you have always taught us to do. We all are now medical staff, law professionals, college students, or honors students.” My grandfather had always valued education. His wish was for each of us to obtain it because to him, education opened people’s eyes and hearts.

I felt angry at the disease. Why did it take away his time? Thanks to him, we are all living happily in America. His wish had been fulfilled but he forgot us all. He wasn’t able to bathe in happiness knowing his wish had been achieved. The disease took that away.

No matter how much time passes, I will never forget my promise to him. Before I knew he had bone cancer, I made a phone call to him. At the end of the phone call I told him, “One day I will become a great doctor and help take care of you!” I may not be able to keep half of that promise now but I will strive to become a great doctor. I cannot take care of my grandfather anymore, but I will have the ability to help many others.

Let me tell you a story about a man.

Essay from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Teens for Alzheimer’s Awareness college scholarship competition, reprinted with permission of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA). For more information about AFA and the Young Leaders of the AFA, visit www.alzfdn.org or www.youngleadersofafa.org.

Be Mighty. Like us on Facebook.

RELATED VIDEOS

Hannah Chute with her grandparents

A Letter of Love to My Grandpa With Alzheimer's


Dear Grandpa,

Hey it’s Hannah, I’m your granddaughter. I’m the blonde girl in the pictures we put in your room; I’m the one who comes to visit on Sunday and Wednesday nights. Although you may not always remember me, I can never stop thinking about you. The people at the nursing home said it’s only going to get worse and that your memory will soon be gone. Maybe all you need is a reminder, a reminder of the great life you lived and of all your accomplishments. You have impacted my life in so many ways and so has the horrible disease they named Alzheimer’s. I want to take this time to tell you all of that because even if someday you don’t know me, I believe you will know that I love you.

It’s sometimes hard to imagine what you were like before you had Alzheimer’s because the way I see you now has become so routine. However, I always think of you sitting in our living room watching sports with all the guys. I remember you saving us spots downtown when we would want to go see the fireworks on the Fourth of July. My favorite memory of you is your endless support for whatever I chose to do. You came to all my in-town basketball games, and I have never heard someone say, “That’s my granddaughter” more proudly than you. You would even walk over to my team in the middle of our huddle to wave and tell me “hi;” there was nothing that made me happier. As I sit in my bed crying and questioning why there is such a devastating disease and why it had to happen to you, I hold on to these memories. It’s my turn to repay you for being the amazing person you can barely remember being.

I think you are the strongest person to have to go through something like this and the worst part is people aren’t even aware of what you are going through. The misconception of it being an “old person” disease should be rid of. You are only 69, 57 when you first showed signs. You are a young grandparent to me. It is pure torture to watch you cry at not being able to see Grandma all the time, and it physically pains me to not have a good enough explanation when you ask why you have to stay at the nursing home and we get to leave. That is the first lesson I have learned: There aren’t answers for everything and sometimes life isn’t fair. However, that isn’t an excuse for not doing anything to make life fair and it’s definitely not an excuse for giving up. That is why on September 22, downtown was filled with people who hadn’t given up. One thousand people held onto the hope for a better future and participated in an Alzheimer’s walk. Each walker received a paper flower on which we wrote the name of the person we were walking for and stuck it in the ground as we left that day. As I was leaving the flower in the ground, I watched it spinning and spinning and how it wouldn’t stop. That’s when I thought of you. You have been stuck with something horrible, but you keep going and going. You have taught me a second lesson: perseverance.

They say there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, but that doesn’t mean there will never be one. While you are sitting in an Alzheimer’s unit struggling to remember how to eat dinner every night, it is my job to raise awareness and get more people involved and caring. I wish you could see how much everyone loves you as much as I get to witness. Your absence on Christmas Eve was strongly felt as we set one less plate at the dinner table, and I can honestly say the best Christmas present I could’ve received was seeing you a few days prior. That is the third lesson you have indirectly taught me: You have reminded me what’s important in life. Is complaining about my day or being stressed about minor details even at all comparable to you struggling to get out of bed because you have forgotten how to walk? Love is what’s important. My mom’s strength and patience is true love. She visits you so much and I can hear her on the phone with Grandma crying because she is now taking care of the man who always took care of her. It kills me to see her cry, but what shocks me the most is that she hugs me when I’m crying. When I can’t handle the sadness of the situation anymore, it’s she who is strong enough for the both of us. She is the living definition of love.

When Grandma has had to make immense decisions for your health, including moving you to an Alzheimer’s unit because it wasn’t safe for you to be home alone and giving up seeing you every hour, I somehow find a prayer book on her table or a prayer card in her purse. This has taught me a fourth lesson: faith. While watching you barely have enough energy to stay awake and seeing you speechless because your brain can’t possibly process what you are trying to say, I must remind myself of faith. I must remind myself that for everything in life there is a plan. Whether you disagree with the plan completely or not, you have to realize that someday you will understand, but it may not be today.

I have learned a fifth lesson: the true definition of support. Some of your old friends who I haven’t ever met still come to visit you and people who you would expect to be there for you aren’t, but it has shown me something valuable. It showed me that the people who are with you at your lowest moments are the ones you want around anyway. There have been more times than I can keep track of over the years where I have broken down and cried or where I have shut down because the pain of watching you suffer becomes suffocating. The same people are always there to pick me back up. The same community is there to fall back on. The same friends are the ones who let me cry, but remind me that you don’t want me to cry. You want me to remember you the way you were.

The way you were isn’t the way you are now, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love you even more. I’ll never know what’s going on in your mind, but I pray every night that you are happy inside. I hope that when you are sleeping you get relief. I hope you have magnificent dreams of spending time with us, of owning Taylor Insulation, and of date nights with Grandma when she was your high school sweetheart. This is why no matter how many times you repeat yourself, I don’t mind; it’s spending time with you that matters. There are countless times that I don’t understand what you are saying, but as long as it makes sense to you I’m happy.

You taught me how to find who I am. It’s not about me; it’s about you. It’s about helping you and helping all those around you that are struggling with a disease that literally ruins your brain. It’s about believing in the impossible because someday there will be a cure. Someday, high schoolers won’t have to go each day wondering how badly Alzheimer’s is affecting their loved ones. Someday, parents won’t have to remind their own parents of who they are. Someday, spouses won’t be separated from their loved ones because they aren’t capable of taking care of them. Someday, there will be a world without Alzheimer’s. The only way to get to that day is with hope. Hope is the most important lesson you have shown me. It is the very essence that connects you to me and all human beings to each other.

I want to thank you for being the best grandpa I could’ve been blessed with. Thank you for hugging me every time I visit, not even knowing that this could be the last hug we ever exchange. Thank you for loving me. I promise you I will never give up hope and I will never lose the memories we have shared. Despite your circumstances, you have still managed to live an incredible life and teach me so much, and, for this reason, I know Alzheimer’s will never win because you already have.

Love,
Hannah Chute

Hannah Chute and Grandparents

Essay from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Teens for Alzheimer’s Awareness college scholarship competition, reprinted with permission of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA). For more information about AFA and the Young Leaders of the AFA, visit www.alzfdn.org or www.youngleadersofafa.org.

Be Mighty. Like us on Facebook.

Husband With Alzheimer’s Shows His Wife He Hasn’t Forgotten How Much He Loves Her


When 84-year-old Melvyn Amrine went missing near his home in Little Rock, Ark., in early May, his wife, Doris, called the police. She was especially worried because her husband has Alzheimer’s disease — his memory has been slowly fading for the last three years or so.

But when police found him two miles from his home, he knew exactly where he was going and why he was going there — he needed to get Mother’s Day flowers for his wife. The officers couldn’t bring him home without helping him complete that mission.

CBS’ Steve Hartman caught up later with the Amrines to hear how the heartwarming story ended.

“It’s special,” Doris Amrine tells him in the video below, “because even though the mind doesn’t remember everything, the heart remembers.”

Watch their full story:

Watch What Happens When a Man With Alzheimer’s Is With the Family Dog


Lisa Abeyta’s dad has Alzheimer’s disease. He’s lost almost all of his speech, according to the YouTube video below. But that doesn’t mean his life is void of meaningful moments.

For example, watch what happens when he’s around Abeyta’s dog.

Climbing a Mountain Without Using Your Legs Requires One Thing: a Son Who Believes in You


“I strongly believe that everyone has his own mountain to climb,” Luca Galimberti says in the video below.

Galimberti, who has Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) and Addison’s disease, literally climbed a mountain in August 2013 — on a cross-country sledge for paraplegic people, using only his arm strength and the help of fellow climbers. He reached a 12,000-foot- high peak of Monte Rosa, the highest mountain in Switzerland. Director Mauro Mancini filmed the climb in the six-minute documentary below.

The feat is, of course, impressive — but the best part of the clip is Galimberti’s close relationship with his son, who never stopped believing in his dad. Make sure you watch through the end, when Galimberti radios his kid to tell him that he overcame his mountain.

Photographer Takes Kids Used to Being in Hospitals and Places them Inside Their Own Drawings


When Shawn Van Daele looks at a child’s drawing, he doesn’t just see crayon marks or colored pencil scribble. He sees a world he can bring to life.

The 37-year-old photographer from Eden Mills, Ontario, has been traveling across Canada and the U.S. meeting children and teens with health conditions and photoshopping them into the dreams they draw up. He’s helped young girls become butterfly fairies and young boys become superheroes. He’s made one little boy a karate master and turned another little girl into a prima ballerina. He appropriately calls his series the “Drawing Hope Project.” Because that’s exactly what his work creates — hope.

“The attention these kids are getting is incredible because each of their causes is so unique and deserves so much attention,” Van Daele told The Mighty in an email. “If it has inspired one person to register as an organ donor, or to donate blood, or support their local children’s hospital or all the numerous foundations that support these kids, then the project has accomplished what I set out for it to do.”

Visit the Drawing Hope Project’s website to view all of Van Daele’s “Little Heroes,” and check out a few fantastical images below.

friendship by christopher robin
Shawn Van Daele

kendal, the ballet queen of broadway

Anniek, the hero of the sand castle

jack, the here of hope street

travis, the watchman

hunder, hero of the deep

avery, the butterfly fairy

david, keeper of the stars

alexandria, queen of candyland

Want to celebrate the human spirit? Like us on Facebook.

And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.