Life with Alzheimer’s — Like a Bowl of Spaghetti

Life is like a bowl of spaghetti. Every once in a while, you get a meatball. 

Sharon Creech

If you ask any Italian grandmother, she will attest that her meatballs have a secret ingredient. Chances are, the ingredient they’re referring to is the love and attention that go into making them. Growing up in Massachusetts, Angela de Muinck watched her mom Irene make her family’s meatballs, taking care of her entire family tirelessly, even caring for the community’s children as a cafeteria worker after the youngest child went to kindergarten. That love and attention was peppered into everything she did, so when Irene started having difficulties at work, her children knew to get her cognition tested. Her diagnosis of younger-onset Alzheimer’s reversed familial roles and set Angela, who now lives in Holly Springs, North Carolina, on a path to switch careers and show families fighting that same fight, that same love and attention she had been shown her whole life.

Irene and her husband Pat were married for over 60 years. After Irene was diagnosed, Pat was “determined to keep her at home,” recounts Angela. Despite having major health issues of his own, Pat stepped up into the caregiver role with a quiet grace and strength that surprised everyone. One such illustration — since Irene had been the one that had historically handled the family finances, Pat continued to walk her through writing checks. “He would give her one check at a time, tell her how to write the date,” shared Angela. “Depending on who she had to make it out to, he would say ‘now don’t use your fancy writing’ [she had beautiful penmanship], you have to fit a lot on there.'” This was in a quest to give her a sense of autonomy, which was important to the both of them.

And then everything changed.

The family had to pivot swiftly on the night that Pat passed away. Thankfully, Irene was aware enough of what was happening to call 911 and they connected with Angela and her siblings. Angela recalled, “I will never forget her coming out of her bedroom with his slippers, saying ‘What do I do with these now?'” After several hours of answering repeated questions about planning funerals and other arrangements, Angela calmly took her mom under her arm, they got into bed together to sleep, and then in the days that followed Angela and her siblings arranged for assisted living for Irene. The family set up Irene’s suite exactly how it was arranged at home to ease the transition. She lived there for a year and a half before moving to the memory care unit. There she progressed rapidly, forgetting family members names, and eventually passed away from a stroke.

Putting purpose to the pain

Angela and her siblings handled their mother’s death differently, as is natural. Some greeted this news with understandable anger and confusion. Angela took this traumatic event in her life and made a resolution to fight for families like her own. Angela had been a preschool teacher for 32 years before switching careers to work as an activity director at a local assisted living community.

Angela got involved with the Alzheimer’s Association by taking action through The Longest Day, the Association’s second largest signature campaign, and she is raising funds and awareness for the second year in a row in honor of her mom and the residents of Cambridge Hills Assisted Living, where she now works. In her community relations position, Angela is an exemplary fundraiser by hosting events at Cambridge Hills and raising funds personally online through a Facebook Fundraiser tied to her The Longest Day page. She has already blown past her goal for this year after a community pancake dinner she held earlier this year, so she’s increased her goal so she can keep going! Her summer plans include bake sales and walking challenges to go above and beyond for the families she now serves. Angela embraces The Longest Day year round, planning fundraisers throughout the calendar, and with more than $1,200 raised already, she may have to increase her $1,500 goal again!

As Angela continues to fight for her community’s residents, she recalls watching her parents continue to make meatballs even after Irene’s diagnosis. Every Sunday, “they would sit and make the meatballs. [Pat] would gather all the ingredients, sit her at the table, and give them to her one at a time. He’d say, ‘Okay, here’s the meat now squish it all up. Okay, here comes the egg.’ He would crack the egg and put it in a bowl for her to dump.” This memory of repeated tradition fuels Angela in her fight on the Longest Day.

That’s Amore.


LIKE ANGELA, WE ALL HAVE A REASON TO FIGHT FOR A WORLD WITHOUT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE. Start planning your own The Longest Day Fundraiser today.

The day with the most light is the day we fight! Leading up to and culminating on The Longest Day – the summer solstice, thousands of participants from across the world will come together to fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s through an activity of their choice. Together, they will use their creativity and passion to raise funds and awareness for the care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association®. Whether participating at home, online or in-person, we have plenty of fun ideas to engage family and friends in The Longest Day.

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