My wonderful and amazing grandmother passed away almost two weeks ago. I’ve spent the time since then missing her more than I have in recent years – partly because I’ve been remembering what she was like before Alzheimer’s truly set in, and started to pull her away from us. I’ve been remembering the woman I spent so much time with growing up.
Living just about 40 minutes from us, I remember being dropped off regularly for the weekend. And those weekends always had the same schedule: Saturday morning we went out to breakfast, to the mall – where my brother and I would go to the candy store and the toy store and each could pick one thing, then we’d go to Blockbuster and each of us got to pick a video – though my brother spent a lot of time trying to help me pick a second one for him instead of one for myself, which Gram caught on to. This was always followed up with a trip to the grocery store where we got the junk food we weren’t allowed to have at home. We’d always be back at the house by lunch, and which point playtime in the yard commenced or an elaborate fort was built with sofa cushions, chairs and blankets.
My brother and I would stay up as late as we could, but once we started to doze the TV went off, the lights went out and Gram headed for bed herself. I remember being woken up in the middle of the night several times, my brother trying to convince me I was thirsty and we should go get water from the kitchen. He didn’t like walking around her house in the dark, so I had to walk in front of him. We always woke Gram up, but she never said anything about it. She’d just heard loud whispers and giggling all the way down the hall, and a discussion about which way we should go to get to the kitchen.
Little specks of a memory will pop in and out of my head every once in awhile. Playing with the hose in her backyard when we were supposed to be watering her plants, the tire swing and huge tree it was tied to (and always wishing we could have one at home too), driving her around when I was in high school while she insisted I go slower and drive in a different lane, waking up too early on Christmas Day and she’d insist we discuss first what we might get from Santa to save my parents another half hour of sleep.
One year at Christmas my dad, brother and I all got Nerf toys. My dad and brother got bow and arrows, and I got this thing that was kind of like a machine gun, but shot the same Nerf arrows – only I had twice as many arrows. She told later that day she knew I’d need more because the boys would gang up against me. Sure enough they did. It was an all out Nerf war, until arrows flew into the kitchen where my mom was working on dinner. All three toys disappeared shortly after Christmas.
She would come to soccer games, softball and baseball games, volleyball games, basketball games – we played a lot of sports growing up. As my brother and I wound up all over the Chicago suburbs for sports she would go to whatever she could – even she and my mom watched from the car because it was too cold to sit outside. That’s where she saw me take a soccer ball in stomach and get the wind knocked out, and she decided the sport was too rough.
It has been a long time since she’d been able to remember any of these things. As we grew up, went away to school, and moved to other places, she had trouble keeping straight where we lived. I didn’t help by moving every 18 months.
Over the last week or so people have said odd things to me. I’m not mourning enough, not doing it right, not focusing on how she was when I last saw her. What bothers me most is that those who have said that don’t know how awful Alzheimer’s is and how much we want to move on the recent woman she was, and focus on the woman she had been for the 80+ years before the disease took over. When the person you’re mourning suffered from such a disease, it becomes a different kind of mourning. And I’m doing it. And I hope I will always have those memories. But I will also always remember how she changed, and that there is currently no cure.
It all started around the time I graduated college, and seven years later we are finally able to focus on all those memories from years past. We can all be at peace, now that she is at peace.