Henry Jack Horn: the pieces of a life

 Kelsi Horn

Contributing Writer

One day my grandfather forgot my name. 

Henry Jack Horn was a Korean War veteran, with four children; eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren. He stood tall with a real grandpa belly. He paid close attention to his grandchildren and always called me Sugar Booger. 

In 2007, when I was 9, my Pawpaw was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and died 11 years later. These years were tough trying to navigate the progression of the disease. 

At 11, I was old enough to understand that my grandfather was becoming different than what he was. In the beginning, he was still able to care for himself with the help of Nana. Time passed, and his confused state made him unable to make sense of everyday things. It made Nana suffer. 

We lived in a house in the front of the yard near the road. My grandparents’ home sat in the back, about a football field away. 

Between the houses on a patch of grass on a hill stood a basketball net. One summer day I was shooting the ball alone. My grandfather, who would always come outside if he saw one of us, walked out to where I was. 

He was pacing near me and staring at nothing. Our conversation didn’t make sense to my 9-year-old self. All he could say was “Sugar Booger.” 

Young Kelsi Horn and her grandfather, “Pawpaw”.
“At 11, I was old enough to understand that my grandfather was becoming different than what he was.”

For some reason, things didn’t seem right, so I asked him to say my first name. With a confused look, he replied “Sugar Booger,” and immediately laughed it off. The way he answered was clear. He didn’t know my name anymore. 

It only got worse for Pawpaw and Nana. The small things he was forgetting turned in to big things. He was no longer able to drive or wash himself, and his frustration turned to anger at Nana. 

One spring day in 2011, Nana and their children decided the Sabine Retirement and Rehab Center would be the best fit for him. 

The center has a beautiful facade, painted creamy white surrounded by flowers in bloom and well kept. Inside, the smell of soiled laundry in repurposed trash cans filled the hallways and an air of sadness filled the rooms. Its rooms housed elderly residents, many sitting alone with empty eyes. They all had stories to tell with no one to tell them to. 

Throughout the first two years we constantly visited him. Pawpaw was able to interact with the other residents and participate in the typical nursing home events. We enjoyed the visiting together and drinking milkshakes, his favorite. 

Soon he was no longer able to communicate or move around much. My family made the decision to move him to the regular floor of the facility with the other residents. 

These visits began looking a lot different. Time after time, I began to notice how sad life in a nursing home can be. Pawpaw’s room was as much like home as possible. Pictures of our family, his children and all of his grandchildren lined the walls near his bed. He stayed in his bed all of the time, unable to do anything for himself anymore. 

We visited him as much as we could, though I was never sure if he knew we were there. He lay there, stared at nothing, or slept. We talked to him, showed him pictures or watched television in silence. We did anything to let him know that we loved him. 

In December 2015, he got really sick. It was the kind of sickness that can only be caused by old age. He was already on a feeding tube, eating was something he couldn’t do anymore. He had infection eating away at his bed ridden body. The doctor told us we would not have much longer with him. 

Over the next month, family members were in and out of his room checking and trying to help. His sickness worsened and the doctor gave him a week to live. 

We were all there the night he died. His tiny nursing home room was packed with family. I sat on the edge of his bed, holding his hand while the nurse used a suction device to get the saliva out of his mouth. 

Pawpaw waited for us. He waited to have his entire family, the joy of his life, to be in one place with him. 

He took his last breath as I held his hand. His face went blue as his spirit left his body. It was peaceful and painless for him but an unforgettable moment for me. His room transformed to a solemn silence in memory of the life he once held. 

Alzheimer’s disease is a thief, stealing my Pawpaw’s memories of us. After a full life of hard work, falling in love, having children and grandchildren, he no longer knew my name but I will never forget his. He was my Pawpaw, and I was his Sugar Booger.

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