The Greatest Generation

By Sara Mendell

May 23, 2012 4 min read

The Sunshine Couple -- that is a term my best friend and I came up with for my grandparents when we were 10. We called them that because they always seemed to walk around with smiles on their faces, and their favorite song was "You Are My Sunshine." They were part of what is today known as the Greatest Generation.

My grandmother always saw the good in life and loved the saying, "If God gives you lemons, make lemonade." She and my grandfather were inseparable. Once he was retired, they walked five miles to church every Sunday.

They were my heroes. Whenever my grandmother spoke about my grandfather, she always said that she was the luckiest woman in the world to be married to him. And she was. He was brave, strong and kind.

In Tom Brokaw's book "The Greatest Generation," he says: "Every generation has its share of men who fully live the art of manliness. But there may never have been a generation when the ratio of honorable men to slackers was higher than the one born between 1914 and 1929. These were the men that grew up during the Great Depression. They're the men who went off to fight in the Big One. And they're the men who came home from that war and built the nations of the Western world into economic powerhouses. ... They were our Greatest Generation."

As close as my grandparents were, however, their golden years were brought to a halt by the dreaded Alzheimer's disease, which struck my grandmother when she was in her early 80s. I can remember her at my wedding six years ago. At the time, she had the beginnings of the disease. As a 27-year-old, I had no idea how serious the disease was. I just remember my grandmother putting lip liner on her eyebrows and my aunts helping her take it off.

Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, and year after year the dementia symptoms gradually got worse and worse. My grandmother would leave their condo in the middle of the night and wander into other people's condos. At one point, even though she was no longer allowed to drive, she would simply take the car out. Needless to say, it became a very dangerous situation for both my grandmother and my grandfather.

She then was placed in a nursing home that had special care for Alzheimer's patients. She became like a little girl again, signing nursery songs and playing with dolls. While my grandmother's memory faded, my grandfather's did not. After we would take my grandparents out for dinner, my grandmother would have to go back to her Alzheimer's unit without my grandfather. She would cry, "No, no, I want to go with my husband." And he always would put on a brave face and say, "You have to rest here, and I will see you in the morning." He would always go and visit her. It is not surprising that he was born in 1921, right in the middle of Brokaw's birth years for the Greatest Generation.

Alzheimer's is a difficult disease to have, but it is even more difficult on the people who love you. My grandfather endured years of watching his wife transform from being a loving and adoring wife into someone who at times did not recognize him or their children.

His greatness as part of the Greatest Generation was never so apparent as it was when he remained strong, loyal and loving until her death last year.

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