All this month, on Dayton Youth Radio, we’ve been dipping into the archives and bringing you some teen voices from years past. We call it the Best of Dayton Youth Radio. Today we turn the clock back three years and hear a story from Maya Smith Custer at Stivers School for the Arts. For her story, Maya wanted to interview her best friend, her grandfather, William Smith.
Alzheimer's is a disease. It's a progressive memory loss. There are more than three million cases in the U.S. a year and it can't be cured. Isn't that crazy?
My story is about my grandfather. This is my experience of taking care of someone that you love.
One morning I woke up coughing, and my nose really burned. I got scared. The first thing I heard were the smoke detectors beeping. My bedroom was full of smoke. I ran into the kitchen, and there was my granddad. He was wearing yesterday's sweater and smiling at me.
"Good morning, lady. Would you like some breakfast?" he said.
He wasn't even bothered by this huge cloud of smoke around him. He got upset when I threw out the burnt eggs. There was a fire truck outside so fast. I wasn't even ready for it. The firemen opened the windows and made sure the house is safe. There were about six of them.
The first one was asking me questions like, "Are you okay? What happened? Is anyone hurt?"
But what struck me was when he looked at me and asked if it was all Alzheimer's. I was about to cry, and all I could do is just nod like, yeah. He told me it's going to be a long road, "Make sure you make his breakfast for him tomorrow."
And they left. As soon as they were gone, I cried. And I called my mom.
My mom and my two brothers and I moved in with my granddad a year ago. It was a major adjustment, and we had to leave the house that I grew up in to move in with him. Most people would think, well, why don't you put him in a nursing home? But he didn't really want that. And I'm glad that we were able to respect his wishes and that we are close enough that we could move in with him and that it was possible.
Dementia is really hard to deal with because it definitely interferes with your daily functions and it totally changes your life. It's definitely changed mine. My routine changes day to day to meet his needs first. I never imagined I'd end up being late for school to take care of him.
And it's hard to explain to someone. I was late, but I couldn't leave my granddad home alone without a sandwich.
I get home in the evening, and after everything I already do - bam! - time flies, and I'm still trying to help Granda take his medicine, and I'm ready to go to sleep. Sometimes I'm just too tired to do my homework or too tired to study like I normally did, and I have to push myself to stay up late.
Just the other night, he was knocking at my door, and he had a $10 bill in his hand. He started singing me "Happy Birthday." I told him it wasn't my birthday and it was late. "You should go back to bed," I said. He went back to his room and as soon as the door closed, it opened back up. And he was already inback in my room with a ten dollar bill in my hand saying happy birthday.
I feel like my story will inspire others because everyone's going through something. You never know what their story is, and you never know what they're dealing with. I had no idea that my life would change in this way. It's hard because this is someone I love. As hard as it gets sometimes and as much as other people don't understand, every day with him is totally worth it.
This story originally aired in 2017. Maya Smith Custer is enrolled now at the University of Dayton. Special thanks Leslie Rogers and Eva Maksutis of the Stivers School for the Arts Creative Writing Magnet. Learn more at the school's website: http://www.stivers.org. Support for Dayton Youth Radio comes from the Virginia W. Kettering Foundation, Ohio Arts Council and the Vectren Foundation.
This story was created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.