As I've been anticipating the arrival of our first child (via adoption) in the coming months, my own family's heritage, history, and roots have been on my mind just about all the time. Also, as other dear ones have recently encountered loss at the hands of Alzheimer's, I've been thinking about my grandfather, who passed away in January 2009 after his struggle with the terrible disease. Here's a peek into his -- our -- story, via an excerpt from an autobiography in the works:

Whenever I entered the room, I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I would be sad when I left. During those months, I watched her watch him, watched her wither away into a fragile, tiny shell of a person, as he did the same (although he never lost his strength). I watched all of us struggle desperately to know what was the right thing to say or do when we visited, and I’m not sure any of us, except maybe my husband, figured it out.

*****

In all of our growing up years, we never spent that much time in his – their – bedroom. Yes, we used to play with her perfume in the bathroom, and try on her powder and foundation, but we only went into the bedroom to get to the bathroom.

*****

While we ate frokost (breakfast) that morning, I was antsy with anticipation, eager, surging with nerves of the good kind, as I waited for him to pick us up and take us to the land he loved, the land he called home as a child and as a young man, the land he always loved and remembered fondly. I couldn’t wait to see the land, to see his brothers, knowing it would be the closest thing to seeing him this side of heaven. I fully expected to cry when I saw him, when he hugged me, when he held me tightly against his tall frame, in the way he used to before he could no longer walk.

*****

My baby nephew was magic in those final months. When he was in the room, everyone else disappeared.

It was just the two of them, as far as he was concerned, and the little one always obliged, nuzzling his soft baby face against his coarse, unshaven one, and resting together, saying no words at all, but speaking more loudly to him than any of us could. We watched in amazement as these two souls connected on the deepest level possible, and maybe some of us even envied what they had, as we sat awkwardly, fumbling with words and our hands, trying to know what to say to make everything normal again.

Your turn: Has your family dealt with the devastation of Alzheimer's or dementia? Share what got you through, gave you hope.

"We’re entering a totally new era in womanhood, and it’s exciting and terrifying." Read more about women in my generation, my mother's generation, and "dream with me" about the future you imagine for the women in your life. That's what my guest post for the FiftyIsTheNewForty blog is all about: http://www.fiftyisthenewforty.net/careers-planning/michelle-seitzer/

In a recent post for a client, I had the opportunity to share something very personal (I love when writing and life intersect!). Head to ParentSociety.com via the link below to read more about my "nesting, dreaming and jumping through hoops on the way to parenthood" experiences of the past few months. Also, if you have an adoption story, I would love to hear it. Share yours in the comments section below. Great Expectations: Preparing for Adoption

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AuthorMichelle Seitzer

The recent post I wrote for Seniors for Living about the Spirit of '45 Campaign taught me this: knowing my family's stories about their WWII experiences is such a powerful part of who they are, who I am, and what our world is like today. Maybe you don't agree that they are the greatest generation, but you have to admit their influence on the generations which followed has been tremendously palpable. In keeping with this theme, and in anticipation of Veterans Day (this coming Friday), here's an excerpt from my piece, "Reconstructing Grandpa: The Story of a Norwegian Carpenter", about my grandfather's World War II story:

I opened the conversation with a very general question, “How did you begin your career as a carpenter?” Little did I know how the story would build from there.

My grandparents were born and raised in Norway. There, after graduation from grammar school, students chose an occupation of interest and would apply to work as an apprentice, shadowing someone who was already established in their chosen field. Learning a little bit of English was also part of the program. Grandpa chose carpentry. The program was supposed to last for a year, but six months into it, World War II interrupted. He had only built a large oak dining room table.

For two years during the war, Grandpa worked at a furniture factory in Farsund, Norway. He offered little information about this job, even looked away, lost in thought as I wrote down what he had told me so far. When he continued, there seemed a deeply buried anger in his voice: “We got in trouble with the [Gyerman] army, so I went back to school, this time in the mountains on the west coast of Norway. I [tink] the town was named Os, and it was right by the fjords. There, I learned about woodcarving.” Six months later, the war interrupted again. The Germans, who had occupied Norway, took my grandfather to their work camp, where he was imprisoned for seven months.

“They took me to the mountains of Alta, all the way up North,” he said, the pain of these memories glistening in his small, deep-set blue eyes. He looked straight at me, fixing me with his eyes but not stern in his gaze, “I don’t like to [tink] about that, you know.” I nodded silently. “You don’t need to hear all about [dat], do you?” He asked, somewhat uneasy. I shook my head; he sighed in relief.

“So many [tings] happened during the war I don’t like to [tink] about. [Dose] memories could [yust] be left behind,” he said. “But [dere] are many good memories in my life too,” he answered, smiling away the pain and shifting in his chair to find a more comfortable position for his back. I assured him that I only wanted to know about carpentry.

After the war, Grandpa returned south and enlisted in the Norwegian army, since finding a job was nearly impossible. After three months in boot camp, Grandpa had to decide whether to stay in the service or become a Merchant Marine. He chose to join the Merchant Marines. “I did [de] boot camp already, so now I wanted to see [de] world,” he said.

And see the world he did...eventually moving to Brooklyn, New York, and later to Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania, where he built his family.

So what's your family's WWII story? If you don't know it, find out today. And remember, it doesn't have to be from the veteran's point of view; everyone who lived through that period was impacted by the war.

I encourage you to learn something new about your history and heritage this month. Knowing and understanding your roots can have an amazing impact on your life, as I've learned. Family History Month - Archives.com

Why not get started by sharing a favorite tradition your family celebrates each year? I'd love to hear about it...

When we played Balderdash, we always, always knew which answer was Grandma's. The word was "upeygan", and to this day I cannot remember what it really meant. But I will never forget Grandma's definition, scratched on the tiny paper in her neat Catholic-school-cursive: "Ever since upeygan school, ya think youah so smaht." (My best attempt at writing in Italian-Brooklynese, a language Grandma spoke fluently.)

She knew how to play the game, and she knew that you didn't have to use the word in a sentence to complete definition, but that was her answer.

That was her motto too, maybe. She didn't care much for people who thought too highly of themselves.

Vivacious, hilarious, audacious, loquacious - that was Grandma. She always had a story that would make everyone laugh. She was always proud of her grandkids, especially their theatrical endeavors. "My little Woolhemina" is what she called me for years after my five minutes of fame in a 3rd grade musical in which I played a bookish sheep.

She lived on her own for so many years, strong, independent, unstoppable. She raised a family, kept a house, cooked delicious Italian meals, smiled often, loved much, laughed frequently, soaked up every minute, every second of life.

And we think of her every year since she left this earth in September 2003, celebrating our Italian-American heritage with an annual trek to the crowded streets and sweaty sidewalks of Little Italy for the Feast of San Gennaro, a tradition my four sisters and I have carried on for 6 years now. In fact, we'll be there this week, ready to gorge ourselves with all the rice balls, pizza, manicotti, cannolis, gelatos, spicy sausages, and calamari we can possibly contain, and we'll be thinking of Grandma as we mangia, mangia our way through the masses.

What are your favorite family traditions? Or favorite grandparent memories?