As I’ve been anticipating the arrival of our first child (via adoption) in the coming months, my own family’s heritage, history, and roots have been on my mind just about all the time.
Also, as other dear ones have recently encountered loss at the hands of Alzheimer’s, I’ve been thinking about my grandfather, who passed away in January 2009 after his struggle with the terrible disease. Here’s a peek into his — our — story, via an excerpt from an autobiography in the works:
Whenever I entered the room, I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I would be sad when I left. During those months, I watched her watch him, watched her wither away into a fragile, tiny shell of a person, as he did the same (although he never lost his strength). I watched all of us struggle desperately to know what was the right thing to say or do when we visited, and I’m not sure any of us, except maybe my husband, figured it out.
In all of our growing up years, we never spent that much time in his – their – bedroom. Yes, we used to play with her perfume in the bathroom, and try on her powder and foundation, but we only went into the bedroom to get to the bathroom.
While we ate frokost (breakfast) that morning, I was antsy with anticipation, eager, surging with nerves of the good kind, as I waited for him to pick us up and take us to the land he loved, the land he called home as a child and as a young man, the land he always loved and remembered fondly. I couldn’t wait to see the land, to see his brothers, knowing it would be the closest thing to seeing him this side of heaven. I fully expected to cry when I saw him, when he hugged me, when he held me tightly against his tall frame, in the way he used to before he could no longer walk.
My baby nephew was magic in those final months. When he was in the room, everyone else disappeared.
It was just the two of them, as far as he was concerned, and the little one always obliged, nuzzling his soft baby face against his coarse, unshaven one, and resting together, saying no words at all, but speaking more loudly to him than any of us could. We watched in amazement as these two souls connected on the deepest level possible, and maybe some of us even envied what they had, as we sat awkwardly, fumbling with words and our hands, trying to know what to say to make everything normal again.
Your turn: Has your family dealt with the devastation of Alzheimer’s or dementia? Share what got you through, gave you hope.