Losing Her Essence
My grandmother is 90; she get’s smaller every year. Her hair is silver gray and still teased and combed in the same style she has worn as long as I can remember. Her eyelids seem to hang heavier now and remain half closed giving her the appearance of constantly being drowsy. Her gait has slowed and she doesn’t pick her feet up so she shuffles and trips easily. She told me two years ago that she felt like her brain had cobwebs in it, things were becoming fuzzy and she was afraid of what was happening to her. It broke my heart to know that the door to Alzheimer’s had been opened and she had walked through.
Last week I traveled back to my hometown of North Platte Nebraska to attend my brothers wedding and my nephew’s graduation. It was a busy weekend and in the chaos of both events my mother made sure my grandmother was able to attend, she was dressed appropriately, her hair was teased and sprayed and she looked much better than any ninety year old should. Her appearance concealed to everyone how much she has declined mentally. Last weekend was the first time my grandmother couldn’t remember my name. I am the oldest granddaughter and when other names eluded her she has always remembered mine. She has confused great grand children, our spouses and family friends, but never me. She looked at me and took my hands and knew who I was, she just couldn’t find my name in the cobwebs, “You, there you are” she tried not to panic, “Oh, kid I just forget everything anymore”. It hurt her as much as it hurt me in that frozen moment that we both realized the severity of her situation, we are losing her and she is losing all of us. I tried to smile and act as though it was nothing, that it could happen to anyone with so many faces and names to remember with the wedding and the graduation, but inside I felt a piece of my life and my history falling away.
My heart hurts and I find myself wishing I had spent more time with her, wishing I had written down all of her recipes, and wishing she would always be able to remember my name. I am grieving the loss of her memory and I hate the cobwebs that are overtaking her mind. I will miss her outspoken, judging, snarky comments even though they drove me crazy. I will miss laughing at her funny stories and wondering how in the world she ever survived birthing babies at home and raising children in the sand hills of Nebraska as such a young girl herself. I will miss receiving crocheted lap robes and embroidered dishtowels that she had made because she believed “idle hands are the devils work”. She once sewed, embroidered and crocheted constantly, now she sits quietly in her chair unable to focus and remember how to finish a project. I treasure every piece she has given me over the years knowing no more will come.
My mother has taken great measures to keep my grandmother active and involved, around familiar people and safe in her surroundings. I watch her and admire the love and patience she shows her mother every day. I feel the weight of my grandmother’s decline on my mother’s heart each time we talk, she is grieving her too. The women of my family live to be old, very old, but the minds don’t always come along with the physical bodies. I hope and pray that my mother and I don’t share in the process of cobwebs overtaking our memories, but the chance that it will happen is good. Through her acts my mother has shown me how she would like to be cared for should as she ages. I hope to honor her with the same love she gives to my grandmother everyday and that my daughter will be see what it means to be a family. The dark abyss of Alzheimer’s is a path none of us choose but if the time comes we will walk it together arm in arm and never let each other become lost or alone.