Grandpa’s Girl

By: Jessica Fox

My grandfather and I were wrapped around each other’s fingers. Growing up, he jumped on the trampoline and played everything with me from soccer to ping pong, and our favorite sport, basketball. I always rode in the combine with him during harvest and we always ate “too much” ice cream together. (I get my sweet tooth from him). No matter how busy he was, he always made time for his family. My grandparents were junior high sweethearts and had been married for 64 years before he passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2011. I was in high school and watching his mind deteriorate was, and still is, the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced. My grandmother, mother, and I would visit him in the nursing home as much as possible. We were “his girls.” Even when he started to really fail, if one of us would place our hand on his, he would try his best to squeeze it. He could not talk or show any emotions, but he knew we were there with him.

My grandfather and I were wrapped around each other’s fingers. Growing up, he jumped on the trampoline and played everything with me from soccer to ping pong, and our favorite sport, basketball. I always rode in the combine with him during harvest and we always ate “too much” ice cream together. (I get my sweet tooth from him). No matter how busy he was, he always made time for his family. My grandparents were junior high sweethearts and had been married for 64 years before he passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2011. I was in high school and watching his mind deteriorate was, and still is, the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced. My grandmother, mother, and I would visit him in the nursing home as much as possible. We were “his girls.” Even when he started to really fail, if one of us would place our hand on his, he would try his best to squeeze it. He could not talk or show any emotions, but he knew we were there with him.

Ever since my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, my family has been donating to the Alzheimer’s Association. It was not until 2015, though, that I became personally involved with the organization. That year, I competed in the Burlington, Iowa RivALZ Blondes vs. Brunettes Powderpuff Flag Football Game. I played in memory of my grandfather and wore his high school number on my jersey with “Grandpa Gene” on the back. I have played on the Blondes team each year since then, and each year I set a goal to raise more money than I did before. So far, I have met that goal and I have raised more than $5,000. However, this year, the game was canceled so things are a little different. I’m also still raising money for the Quincy Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which took place on Saturday, September 14, 2019. I hope to raise at least $2,000 by the end of this year.

In addition to these events, I have spread awareness for the Alzheimer’s Association by using my pageant crown as a spotlight. I have participated in various pageants through the Miss America Organization since 2015 and currently, I hold the title of Miss Quincy (IL) 2019. As a titleholder, one must have a platform they are passionate about to promote and support throughout their year. My platform is “Memory Matters – Alzheimer’s Awareness” in honor of my grandfather. During parades, I pass out bookmarks with information about Alzheimer’s to bystanders. These bookmarks are provided by the Quincy Alzheimer’s Association. I also added the Alzheimer’s Association logo to my magnetic car signs. Throughout my year, I have focused on raising awareness and funds through various events, volunteering, and becoming an official spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Association.

My favorite appearance as Miss Quincy is anytime I can perform my 90-second talent. I performed this talent at Miss Quincy and again at Miss Illinois. My talent is speed painting a tree. The painting symbolizes the Alzheimer’s disease and my hope for a cure. The leaves are purple, the color for Alzheimer’s awareness, and the background is grey to represent the grey matter in the brain that is affected when someone gets Alzheimer’s. There are multiple butterflies flying away from the tree, which symbolizes a sign from a loved one in Heaven and/or memories floating away. Among the roots is the Alzheimer’s Association logo in purple glitter. I perform this talent at local memory units and donate the 36”x48” canvas for the residents to enjoy. To help the residents remember and understand the meaning of the painting, I included an “In Loving Memory of Eugene Thorell” framed write-up, which explains the painting while also honoring my grandfather.

Being involved with the Alzheimer’s Association is near and dear to my heart because I do not want anyone to experience the pain my family did. Alzheimer’s is hard on the person living with the disease but even harder on the family. Near the end of my grandfather’s life, he could not talk or show any emotions, but he knew when his family was there with him. During his final day with us, I laid beside him with my head on his chest and my grandmother and mother held his hands while he passed away. Again, I know he knew we were there as God took him to his eternal home in Heaven. My grandfather showed love to everyone he met, worked hard for his family, and was a true servant of God. His name was Eugene Thorell, and he was the best man anyone could have ever met.

Until we meet again, Grandpa.

With love,
Jessica

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