by Sasha Reddy
Living through the loss of a loved one is one of the greatest hardships anyone can go through; witnessing the deterioration of that loved one’s life only compounds the pain of the experience. Though remembering the harrowing years of watching her mother succumb to Alzheimer’s Disease is still deeply distressing, Rochelle Moneta has learned to channel her grief toward advocacy and the fight for a cure.
Rochelle grew up in Brooklyn, New York and pursued a degree in elementary education. After earning her bachelor’s from Brooklyn College, she moved south to Delaware where she attained her master’s plus 45 credits and began teaching. Through her 30-year career teaching 3rd, 4th, and 5th-grade students, the biggest lesson she strived to teach is to “be kind, be kind, be kind.”
“I come from a family of kind people,” Rochelle says. She’s always had good relationships with her parents, especially her mom, Helen Moneta. Helen was exceptionally creative; she learned to sew from her father, Moshe Korman, an esteemed tailor who made history as the first Jewish person to earn a prestigious award from the German government for his sewing prowess. She used her skill to create her own versions of the outfits she saw in store window displays for her children when they were growing up. As a young girl, Rochelle would return home from school to excitedly find new, hand-tailored clothes waiting for her.
Helen was just 57 when she began showing signs of her then-undiagnosed illness. At first, changes in her behavior were subtle or easy to explain away. The first notable incident happened one Thanksgiving when Rochelle was invited to dinner at her parents’ house. “We started eating dinner and I was confused as to why we were eating before my three brothers arrived,” Rochelle remembers. Helen explained that Rochelle’s brothers had been there earlier in the day, though she was convinced that Rochelle had been there with all of them hours earlier. Throughout the discussion, Rochelle came to understand that her mother had actually told her to arrive at a completely different time than her brothers, but Helen never realized the scheduling error nor her daughter’s absence. “I felt troubled and confused that my mom seemed to believe that I was present when my brothers were there. Aside from that glaring disconnect, my mom seemed her usual self.”
Disconnects like these only became more frequent over time. At a point, Helen called Rochelle on the phone claiming that Harry, her husband, had hit her. Rochelle was concerned but confident in her father’s strong love for her mother, so she drove up to their home in New York to talk to her parents in person. When asked to further describe what happened, Helen explained that she had been hit with a piece of furniture too heavy to have been moved. “I turned to my father and gave him a confused look, but he was waiting for me to realize what was happening,” Rochelle says. “Except for the fact that my mother was saying something that was simply not possible, she appeared otherwise fine.” After this incident, Rochelle became acutely more concerned about her mother’s mental health. She scheduled an appointment with a neurologist and learned of her mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis shortly after.
Helen was not only a victim of Alzheimer’s; she was a Holocaust survivor. She grew up in Poland during the Nazi regime, and she and her father forcibly spent five long, dreadful years in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. During this time, she was beaten countless times by her captors; Rochelle suspects that the trauma her mother endured had a lot to do with her Alzheimer’s diagnosis later in life.
Steadily, Helen’s symptoms became more apparent, and she became more easily agitated. At times, it was clear that her deteriorating mental health was causing her to relive the atrocities she experienced in Auschwitz. “It became dangerous to take her in a car because she would suddenly become terrified and try to jump out,” Rochelle remembers. Her anxiety caused her to believe that Harry, who became her primary caretaker, and other relatives were doing things to purposely confuse her, like flipping all of the light switches in her home upside down so that she could not use them. “Alzheimer’s stole precious pieces of my mom every day,” Rochelle says. Memories of the last few years of her mother’s life are still extremely difficult to revisit.
In 1990, Helen passed at the age of 67.
Rochelle’s relationship with Alzheimer’s disease is one that she would wish upon no one. “Although I may have known a few facts about Alzheimer’s, it is very different to see it happening to someone you love. The progressive loss of everything that makes us who we are is devastating and cruel.” Helen was an extremely creative, intelligent, and loving woman and mother to Rochelle. Despite the years of undeserved torture brought upon her, her family, and millions of Jews during the Holocaust, Helen always remained kind and compassionate. Even 30 years after her death, Rochelle continues to hold a deep admiration of her mother’s gentle, considerate nature. Helen and Harry were “kinder than the average bear” and Rochelle’s drive to fight for a cure to Alzheimer’s Disease is still largely inspired by their kindheartedness.
Despite all that is now known about Alzheimer’s Disease, a cure has not yet been found. This awful disease, a progressive illness that negatively impacts memory, thinking, and behavior, currently affects about 5 million Americans. HAC is helping Rochelle, her family, and others affected by Alzheimer’s Disease by participating in the Wilmington Walk to End Alzheimer’s for a second year. You can join the fight by donating or joining our team and helping us raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association. Join the team or donate on our team page: https://act.alz.org/site/TR/Walk2020/PA-DelawareValley?team_id=645298&pg=team&fr_id=13793