For one Minneapolis bride, having her wedding a year early wasn’t what she expected, but she said she wouldn’t have traded it for anything since her mother with Alzheimer’s was there by her side.
Steph Gefroh and her husband, Bryan Fish, got engaged in Florence, Italy on April 16. They had planned to have their wedding on May 27, 2018.
However, Gefroh’s sister, Amber, had suggested for the couple to have their wedding earlier so their mother, Susan, would be able to attend.
“My mom already had difficulties with making small trips around town, and the thought of having to drive her 3.5 hours to an unfamiliar town in a year from now seemed impossible,” Gefroh told Global News in an email. “I was pretty broken up about it…but I knew [Amber] was right.”
Before Gefroh’s mother was diagnosed with Young Onset Alzheimer’s, Susan was a daycare operator and artist.
“My mom was the most loving, caring and selfless person,” said Gefroh. “She was very artistic. She also loved going to garage sales on the weekends and spending time with her sisters and her mother.”
However, it was the summer of 2008 that Gefroh started noticing a change in her mother.
“She would walk into a room, look super confused, and then walk back out, saying nothing at all. She would be talking on the phone in the kitchen, and pause for long periods of time. I’d be in the living room, and more often than not, I’d know what story she was telling, so I’d fill in the blanks for her by shouting to her from the living room.”
Gefroh also said there were times when she would go out with friends and when she’d come home her mom would ask her where she’d been. And then in the morning, her mom would ask her again.
When Gefroh finally got an official diagnosis that her mother had Alzheimer’s, she was told that her mother’s speech and comprehension would only worsen.
“I haven’t been able to have a full conversation with my mother in almost five years,” said Gefroh. “That, for me, was and still is the hardest part about this disease. I would give anything to be able to hear my mother tell me that she loves me again.”
But deep down, Gefroh knows her mother loves her and is there for her, so moving the wedding up seemed like the right thing to do.
Gefroh said it was pretty easy planning the wedding in 25 days, thanks to the support of her family and friends.
“I was pretty laid back when it came to the wedding details because I knew I couldn’t be as picky as I probably would have been had I allowed myself more time,” said Gefroh.
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She said friends and family helped with cleaning up her mother’s yard for the ceremony, preparing the food and even helping with the decorations.
“We definitely could not have pulled this off without the help from all of our friends and families.”
Gefroh said the wedding turned out beautifully and her mother was there in attendance.
“I wouldn’t trade that day for anything though. I was able to have my mother there with us and in pictures, and that was something I wasn’t sure would ever be a possibility.”
All-in-all, it was a good day for Gefroh, but her fight to help find an end to Alzheimer’s continues.
Gefroh said she noticed her mother started becoming depressed once her speech started to fail. She saw a lot of her mother’s friends distance themselves because they didn’t understand what was going on.
“It was heartbreaking to see,” said Gefroh. “She was very aware of what was happening and seemed almost embarrassed to be around groups of people for fear of not being able to contribute to conversations. When she could still talk, she would tell me ‘I know what I want to say in my head, I just can’t get it out.’”
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And now, Gefroh’s mother doesn’t even know who she is.
“She is at the point where she doesn’t comprehend things anymore, nor has she been able to recognize who I am for the past two years. She’s at the end stages of the disease and didn’t seem to understand what was happening on our wedding day. As much as I’d love to say that she was excited because of the wedding, I can’t. I walked into her house before the ceremony started. My sister said ‘Look mom, Steph’s getting married!’ She looked at me with an expressionless face, and walked away,” said Gefroh.
Gefroh said the support of a group helped her a lot the past few years. So much so she wanted to create her own Facebook group so others could have a support system to share their stories about having a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
“It’s been really difficult but I’ve been trying to stay positive. It’s been very hard to cope with. I miss her every single day.”
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