But on Tuesday’s all new episode, the 45-year-old reality star shocked audiences by showing a rare moment of vulnerability and emotion as she revealed the heartbreak she experienced watching her maternal grandmother succumb to Alzheimer’s disease.
The moment of reflection came as Girardi — who will compete on the upcoming season of Dancing with the Stars as her musical alterego Erika Jayne — paid a visit to her grandparents’ former home in Conyers, Georgia.
“My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s for over a decade. And then she died — almost two years ago,” Girardi explained of her grandmother Ann Peek, who died in November 2014 at the age of 86.
“[It’s] the most slow, most agonizing, most heinous disease ever,” Girardi continued. “She started forgetting where you are. And then it went down to not being able to write, not being able to walk, not knowing anyone — and the worst of all, losing speech. She suffered. But she is out of pain for sure.”
For Girardi, her relationship with her grandmother was incredibly special. “She was somebody that you could to go with any problem and she would listen,” Girardi said. “She was quick to call you on the carpet — to tell you, ‘Hey that’s not right or I don’t agree with you on that.’ She always gave it to you straight.”
As she remembered the toll Alzheimer’s took on Ann’s life, Girardi began to cry.
“My grandmother and I used to speak on the phone for an hour every day about nothing,” she explained.”When those phone calls stopped, that was the hardest. Because I knew she could no longer communicate.”
“I had always gotten such strength and such love from those phone calls. and when they stopped, it was a real marker of, ‘This is over, Erika. The woman that you know is no longer,’ ” she added. “You know, she was so vibrant and so strong. And to see someone like that just slip away is inhumane.”
Luckily, Girardi was able to remember the time the two spent together in Ann’s home. “It is nice to still see that her things are still here,” she said. “Even though they are painful memories, they’re still very important to me.”
The house is now occupied by Girardi’s mother Renée Chahoy, who had moved in to take care of her parents during the final years of their lives. (Hollis Peek, Girardi’s grandfather whom she called “the only father I’ve ever known,” died in July 2010 at the age of 81).
With the two visiting the Peeks’ graves together, Girardi was able to talk to her mother about some of the pains she experienced during her childhood.
“My mother was 18 when I was born,” Girardi recalled. “And she was raising me in the best way that she knew possible. She always told me she loved me, always gave me hugs, but she never bulls—-ed me. She never really cut me any breaks. I wasn’t allowed to be shy, I wasn’t allowed to be a baby. And there were times when I wanted to lean on her and when I wanted her to swoop in and protect me, and it wasn’t happening.”
“It was always, ‘Oh you want something? Go to f—ing work! Oh you have big dreams? Go make them happen — ’cause no one else is going to do it.’ It’s kind of like throwing the kid at the end of the pool and telling them to swim. But I didn’t drown.”
Though she knew her mom had good intentions, Girardi recognized the tough love she received from Chahoy was coming from a variety of places. “I think she was raising me how the world was treating her,” Girardi explained. “It was a little bit of impatience and a little bit of being a single mom and a little bit of being overwhelmed.”
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And while Girardi saw Chahoy’s struggles, she said watching her mom taught her how to be a strong person — even if that comes with criticisms that she’s a cold person.
“My mom sometimes was so trusting and so open — and she got hurt a lot,” Girardi said. “I remember my mother — she was in a purple polo and navy shorts. She was sitting in our den, she was crying. So hurt and so devastated that this man had left her. And I remember in that moment looking at my mother and saying, ‘I’ll never be like that. I’ll never be that weak.’ “
“I just grew up very controlled,” she added. “It doesn’t mean I’m not empathetic or sympathetic or I don’t hear you or I don’t relate. It just means that when it comes to me sharing back, I watch and I measure. … Being raised like that, I have very little patience for cry babies and people I think that need a lot of support and hand holding. It makes me not like them.”
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills airs Tuesdays (9 p.m. ET) on Bravo.