(AKA the coolest Grandma around)
Recently, I had to write a speech for a competition at school on any topic, and I picked my grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s. I feel like this topic is important to hear, not only so that you have an insight into the disease but so that you can also appreciate your grandparents more.
My grandma is gone.
That kind-hearted, Uno-playing, rissole-making, cornetto-loving lady who would always bring me more pillows to prop my head up on just so that I could see the movie playing from the comfort of the hard, carpeted floor.
It started with the little things — like forgetting minor dates and not wanting to eat all of her meals — to forgetting major dates and forgetting who I was. Ten years is a long time to watch somebody die, but I would go through it all over again if, for one day, she could see me and see the letters form inside her mind: an “H” here and an “A” there and an “N.” And she’ll say, “Hannah! Nice to see you! I’ve missed you so much!” as she pinches my cheeks and kisses me repeatedly, leaving those red-purple stains on my face that I always took for granted, rushing to the nearest bathroom to scrub it off as if it were a drip of bleach on a bright blue blouse.
I would go through it all over again if, for one day, she could see me, and see ME instead of seeing me as a nurse who oddly spends a lot of time with her compared to other patients, or the retail worker at the shopping centre she thinks she’s inside all the time, or her daughter who is usually sitting there too. “I am your granddaughter,” I say to her, and she looks at me with those absent eyes and throws her hands in the air because she doesn’t have a granddaughter. As far as she knows, she has three kids around my age.
And then the anger kicks in, and I wish I could say she was gentle and kind and caring all the time, but there are days when she would rather see my head on a serving dish than against her cheek.
The last time she had a good day, my mother was sick, so I visited her alone. I walked in and sat with her on the chairs in the lounge room of her nursing home, and although I was a passing stranger to her, she was everything to me. She talked non-stop the entire visit, and I had never felt more close to her. When I left, she told me not to be too long because she’d miss me too much. That is the person I want to remember. And I will. My memory of her will always be of the soft, gentle lady who always put me and my brother first and loved her grandchildren more than anything else in the world. I will also remember her award-winning dance to her own cover of “If I’d Known You Were Coming I’d Have Baked a Cake” that she performed exclusively each family get-together.
Alzheimer’s disease is not about a few forgotten dates. It’s not about forgetting to turn off the kitchen light or walking into a room to find yourself confused as to why you went in there. Alzheimer’s disease is losing an entire person and wondering where they went, but there are no maps. Sidenote: Alzheimer’s is different for everyone, and I pray that nobody witnesses it to the same extent of a ten-year-sufferer where they can’t even feed themselves. It is dehumanising.
The other day I thought of something that I haven’t pictured in a while: if my grandmother’s disease was curable. Could you imagine? This is actually a possibility. As medicine and technology grow exponentially, the cure for Alzheimer’s is within reach. I know it probably won’t get to my grandmother, but can you imagine all the families that would be reunited with loved ones if a cure presented itself? That’s why I encourage you ALL to make a donation to Alzheimer’s Australia, even if only for a dollar or two. Every coin makes a difference, and we WILL find a cure.
My grandma may not be the best thing about me, but she makes me the best me I can be. I am kinder, I am wiser, and I am more appreciative of the world. I learn a thousand life lessons by looking her directly in the eyes, and although this sounds like a Hallmark card, it is true. She may be gone, but sometimes I see a glimpse of her on her best days, and that makes up for a whole year of bad ones. On her good days, my grandma is the sweetest person you’ll ever meet. She has big eyes, a smiley mouth, hair EVERYWHERE, and she reaches for my hand a lot. She also compliments me often because, you know, she can’t remember she’s already said my hair looks nice twenty times in the last hour. I’m not saying Alzheimer’s is a dream come true, but you have to look for the positives to make the negatives anywhere near bearable. It’s about learning to love the person they’ve become and searching for the person they used to be.
My grandma is gone, and I will never find her whole again. Some people have great grandparents. I have half a grandparent, and I want you to remember this: The next time you see your grandparents, or the sweet elderly neighbour that always smiles at you when you collect the newspaper, appreciate it. Remember the kindness in their eyes. Treasure the memories and tell them how much you love them. If I could go back to those days with cheeks of red-purple and an apology before rushing to the bathroom to do the deed, I would wear her lipstick on my face like a medal that reads: “I have the best grandparents in the world.”
My grandma may be gone, but so is the rain, and that doesn’t mean it won’t rain tomorrow. She will be back. And I will be waiting for her.
She may forget us, but we will never forget her.