Lost and Found: Memories of my Grandmother

By: Candice McCloud

A few years after I graduated from college and early into my professional career, I came upon an opportunity to create a scholarship at my Alma Mater: Southern Illinois University Carbondale. I knew I wanted to give back to future students who were in my position – i.e. minority students in the College of Business. What I didn’t know was what I wanted to name said scholarship; I just knew it had to truly mean something. Naturally, I sought advice from the chairman of my personal board of advisors: my mother.

My mother shared with me was that she always wanted to honor the memory of her mother- an educator for over 30 years – by giving to a foundation in her name. The Gloria Dean Battles Scholarship has, for the past 9 +, years granted students at SIU with funding for relief from expenses (such as books, rent, supplies, and classes) which allows them to focus more on their education.

This scholarship has meant so much to my family, and ties so closely to my memories of my late grandmother. In my earliest memories, I would come home from school in my grandmother’s house in Rochester, throw my bags down and then enter Mrs. Battles’ classroom. My grandmother would sit us down and begin teaching us lessons. I loved this pretend time with my Grandmother. We would raise our hands, ask questions and often run up to her “desk” to use the stapler or rotary pencil sharpener.

These same early memories of my grandmother were made during the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. What was a fun, after-school game to me was my grandmother’s involuntary reenactment of her time in the classroom. At that time, I did not know the difference. It was hard for me to understand at eight years old what was happening to my grandmother, my mother and my entire family.

Over the next several years, the “game” ended, and the reality of my grandmother’s condition slowly revealed itself to me. I had to watch my mother – who was at the age I am now – witness her mother slowly and then altogether suddenly… forget.

When my grandmother passed away, I remember the feeling of being betrayed by Alzheimer’s. I was saddened and ashamed that my only real memories of her were of her with the disease. I wished so hard that I could remember her from the stories that my mother shared with me. Stories about pumpkin carving in her kitchen, sending cards and phone calls on birthdays. For me, my grandmother always had Alzheimer’s.

It took some time, but I began remembering that I did, in fact, have precious memories with my grandmother. She just so happened to have Alzheimer’s. I have memories of dancing with her in my room, with music only she heard playing in her head. Memories of seeing her laugh in the moment and of her humming to the music in church. And of course, I have the memory of playing a student in her “classroom” after school. Those are the ones I remember and will never forget. Gloria Dean Battlers was a mother, a matriarch, an educator, and my grandmother; and she just so happened to have Alzheimer’s.

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