I haven’t seen my grandmother in 2 years. It’s terrible, I know. I’ve felt guilt, sadness and frustration over this. I’ve prayed about it. I wanted to blame my aunt…and blame my mom…and blame my papa for my absence. In truth it was my absence, and I will need to live with that. Seeing my grandma is hard. It almost downright sucks to be honest.
My grandma has Alzheimer’s Disease. Today was the 1st time I’ve ever seen her look at me and not know who I was – for a second – but that second will forever be burned into my brain and I now know she’s gone. She’s officially gone to this wretched disease.
Two years ago when I saw her she was gone in a different way. Gone was the grandma who spanked me and told me to ‘mind my mother’ something my younger cousins never experienced….the strict grandma. Two years ago was the grandma that sang the Burger King commercial from like 20 years ago, the grandma that danced around the kitchen, the grandma that let me file and paint her long unkept nails.
This new grandma…she’s foreign to me. This new grandma has forgotten my life. She remembers me, yes, and she remembers my daughter, yes, but she has forgotten my life. She’s forgotten where I live and work, my painful divorce and what my life entails…like being a sister, a friend and now a mother. Gone are the questions. Gone is the conversation. It’s like sitting with a stranger.
My daughter and I played Candy Land with her today….each turn she forgot what she had to do – pick a card and go to the color on the board. Each turn she forgot which color candy man she was. I had to watch my five year old explain it to her ever so patiently each time. I fell more in love with my daughter in that moment then I thought was possible.
She wasn’t frustrated or annoyed – she was helpful and caring. She’d say, “You’re the blue one, Grandma.” And “pick a card, Grandma.” It was the strangest thing ever – watching a kindergartener interact with a woman who turned 75 just today but is really just a child again.
I sat next to her at dinner last night. When the waitress asked for her drink order she yelled out, “a beer!” I think we were all shocked, because now she tends to follow my papa, who ordered a ginger ale. The waitress asked, “What kind of beer?” – almost annoyed, like how dumb is this lady. I wanted to pull her aside by her ear and say ‘Listen, lady. My grandma has Alzheimer’s but she still deserves every ounce of respect you’d give any other paying customer here!” I felt like I needed to protect her. Like everyone needs to know.
But everyone doesn’t need to know, I reminded myself. Who cares what anyone thinks? I don’t need to give an “excuse” for her behavior. She’s not doing anything wrong. It’s like asking my five year old what she wants to drink. “Party juice!” She’ll yell, like the waitress knows that’s actually Sprite and not some weird alcoholic concoction I’m giving my kid.
But the horrible part was this afternoon. When we were leaving. My grandma was lying down. Still in pajamas and a bathrobe at 1 pm. I guess this is her now. I went in to say good-bye and she looked at me. For a second I thought she was going to cry.
Wow, she really misses me, I thought. But the look in her eyes was a look I remember seeing in the movie The Notebook.
I said to my mom as we headed home that it looked like Grandma was going to cry. “No,” she whispered, “That’s the look she gives you when for just a second she can’t remember who you are.”
I put my sunglasses on and wept to myself quietly for a minute while my five year old played Minions on my Iphone.
My mom turned down the radio declaring, “What is this song?’’
I took a deep breath and knew I needed to be strong. But I carried on. “Grandma’s different now.”
“I know,” she said, “but I want to hear how YOU think she’s different.”
I hesitated, remembering the strict grandma who always hugged me after a spanking. The grandma who would tell me to go back up to bed when I got up a 5 AM on a night I slept over, and the grandma who taught me how to play Solitaire. “She’s mean now.”
“I know,” my mom said, but then reminded me, “It’s not her. You have to remember HER. It’s the disease.”
And in that moment I knew that my grandma is officially gone. I spent this time with a stranger – a stranger who didn’t even remember going to dinner last night and asked us this morning when we were in pajamas drinking coffee what time we had arrived….
Alzheimer’s has destroyed my grandma and also my family.