Last week I had the honor of taking my grandparents out to Maryland where my parents, sisters and uncle live. Grammy and Papa spend most of the winter out there and Grammy doesn’t drive anymore. I tag along, help drive and get to spend time with my family. It really is a win win. My Grammy and I are very very close. We always have been. Kindred spirits, is what my Grammy always said, and since that’s also a phrase Anne of Green Gables would have used, I knew it was true. Grammy could (and still does) make me feel special in a way that no one else ever could. It’s the magic power of grandparents.
Now, however, things are changing. They were both ageless for so long and now they’re not. Alzheimers has come. I hesitate to even blog about it. The experience is intensely personal, yet, I know so many other people have also experienced the disease in some way and I just want to put down in words how confusing it is. They’re both early on, sometimes you can almost forget that they even have it, but more and more it’s impossible to ignore. On the trip Papa was convinced we’d missed our exit, and even though I knew we hadn’t even though it wasn’t a big deal, it was so upsetting. A road marker proving that we were on a journey that there is no coming back from.
While it’s hard for me, it’s a completely different experience for my mother and her siblings. I can’t even begin to understand what it’s like to have your parents go from parents to your responsibility. I feel like I’m not much of a help either. Brian and I had talked at length about how when the kids were in school full time I would be able to take on more responsibility helping, it seems like the least I can do for all they’ve given me through the years. Yet, I feel completely under equipped I feel like I’m doing so little compared to my Aunt. And even though I keep asking “how can I help?” I feel like I’m not helping much. Sometimes I think I inadvertently make it worse. And it’s hard, hard to be around them. It’s mentally exhausting trying to think of things to talk about, or listening to the same stories, especially if they’re tainted by a slight strangeness.
It can be very jarring when you realize that they’ve forgotten someone. A person has just disappeared from their memory. Hard to see them lose their patience with each other. Heart breaking when you know they know something is not right. It’s awful even when it’s not. I feel so selfish saying any of these things. This stupid disease hasn’t changed the love I have for them. Nothing could ever do that. But what happens when they’re not that person, that friend and wise companion? How is it fair to lose a person who is not lost? How do I continue to respect and honor them while taking on more of an adult role as they begin to act more childish?
I am really trying to cherish every moment I have with them. I am grateful for the life I’ve had with them as a constant support. And we’re still gifted with times and visits that are special and sweet. But, I’m fearful too. I’m nervous about who they’ll be the next time I see them. Worried about the years in front of us. I’m afraid that this time will erode the memory of the real them. I don’t want to end up with the memory of this version of them, I want to be able to hold onto who they always were and who they still are in their hearts. I want to do that, but I don’t know if I’ll be able too. Perhaps, that’s my prayer, that God will help me always keep who they truly are in my memories and in my heart.