When I was growing up, I always saw my mom as a force to be reckoned with. Her petite frame concealed the inner strength and fight within her. Over the years, many have taken her docile appearance and her kindness for weakness, but they have come to learn, in no uncertain terms, that you do not mess with Gloria Porras.
Whether at a checkout line at the grocery store, a Wendy’s hallway, an ATM machine, a movie theatre, the seventh hole of a local golf course, or just outside the Whole Foods in NYC, my mom always stood up for herself and those she loved.
Bullies are her natural enemies, and protecting her own has always been her mission in life. Her ability to move from extreme kindness and acts of love and generosity to fierce defense is legendary — not just in our circles of family and friends, but with anyone who has had the pleasure of spending time with her.
I reflect on this aspect of her personality not only because it warms my heart and makes me proud to think of her in all her “glory,” but also because I recently visited her in Ohio. Now at 78 years old, weighing less than 100 pounds and in the late stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, she is on the surface both literally and figuratively half the person I knew.
Unable to communicate, she does not recognize any of us and is barely eating and moving around. She sleeps most of the day, and her limbs appear to be even more slight than those of my 5-year-old daughter, the grandchild she will never really know. At first glance, the once-upon-a-time warrior of Shaker Heights appears defenseless and the picture of debility.
But the more time that I spent with her — feeding her, dressing her, and moving her from place to place — the more I realized that once again I was underestimating Gloria Porras. Her muscles, though slight, were firm, and her bones were sturdy and strong. I could see in her eyes the same fight and the same unwillingness to give up that I had always seen.
She is fighting every day, just as she has done her entire life. Today, though, she isn’t fighting a bully who demeans her children, her race, or herself. Today, she battles a terrible disease that knows no cure and will not be defeated.
Ironically, the disease that systematically takes and takes from her has also taken from her the knowledge of her own inevitable defeat. Although she will never beat Alzheimer’s, she doesn’t know that. So she fights on — a fight to move, to swallow, to listen, to comprehend, to live.
For many, seeing a person of such strength in voice and action reduced to sitting and waiting can be hard. But when I look below the surface, I see her as the same force to be reckoned with that has shaped every bit of who I am. It makes me proud to be her son and proud to continue my own fights.
It makes me think, as well, of the other women in my life who have Gloria’s fighting spirit coursing through their veins. I think of my sister Tonia, who has not only cared for our mom for the past decade, but who has also built an organization that helps others to do the same.
So much could have been done to help Mom and our entire family to wage this fight, if only we had had better information and more resources earlier on. I’m so proud that my sister dedicates her life and her energies to providing that information and those resources to others now. By building Gloria’s Way, she helps so many in her community and beyond to act sooner rather than later. Like our mother would do, Tonia has stepped up to help others before their problems become too much.
Mom’s super power was quick and decisive action. She took the fight straight to the bully. This same head-on fearlessness lives in Tonia, leading her to win multiple national titles as an elite collegiate Lacrosse player and to forge a production career that earned Emmy and Tribeca film festival awards. And now? Now it’s the foundation for how she helps families attack Alzheimer’s and dementia.
I see that fearlessness, that willfulness and determination, in my young daughter, Mila Antonia Porras. Already I see the strengths of my mom and my sister so clearly defined in her.
Saying goodbye to Mom at the end of this last visit, I am as proud of her as I had always been growing up. Alzheimer’s Disease runs through my family history. But I have hope.
To see my sister and my daughter continuing her fight and her legacy gives me all the hope I need in these crazy times. Be it AD, COVID, or just the run-of-the-mill bully down the street — we can never stop fighting