When Grandma Doesn’t Know Me Anymore–Grandparents with Alzheimer’s

When Grandma Doesn’t Know Me Anymore–Grandparents with Alzheimer’s

Corrine* was her name. She was tall, very tall, with smiling brown eyes, pouty lips and thick curly hair. I remember her, sitting in the corner of her room, singing sweet tunes of days past, even my mother could barely recognize them.

Corrine* was her name. She was tall, very tall, with smiling brown eyes, pouty lips and thick curly hair. I remember her, sitting in the corner of her room, singing sweet tunes of days past, even my mother could barely recognize them. She must’ve sung those tunes to my mom while bathing, oiling, and massaging her as a newborn. My mother, a woman who she now barely recognizes, at best, as her sister. We called her “Mama” because that was what my mother called her. We loved her deeply, not just because my mother loved her even more, but also because how could you not?

We watched Mama descend into the abyss of Alzheimer’s and dementia with teary eyes for about half a decade. First came forgetting the names of her grandchildren. This was a woman who had multiple names for her grandchildren, in addition to their given names. I often forgot mine because given my baptismal, confirmation, traditional and other names, I couldn’t keep up. This little catholic girl was all named out. I think it was “Aimanohi.” Don’t ask me the meaning, I just know that it must have meant something beautiful in her Yoruba-esque dialect. Then came the slow blank stares during which you can see her struggle to recognize the reason behind the smile in your eyes. Until the struggle was replaced with paranoia and anger, all indicative of dementia.

She would get particularly upset in the evenings, her lack of lucidity slowly becoming constant. She was still beautiful, tall, with brown eyes and pouty lips and grey curly hair. However, she just didn’t remember I was her favorite grandchild. After all, she thought my mother, her third child, was her sister. Every now and then, she would smile, as though she remembered you from decades past, and that smile would eventually be slowly eclipsed by a shadow of darkness, drawing her into the abyss of Alzheimer’s. Every now and again, I wish I could go back in time to  remind her, before she forgot, that I loved her deeply, and her, me.

Cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, the trifecta of non-discriminatory chronic illness plaguing Americans in epic proportions. Of these three, Alzheimer’s is the only disease where the bulk of the pain is on the family member, not the patient. They say it is hereditary and I KNOW I will not be able to watch my mother go through the same thing her mother did. I am not blessed with her strength, her courage, her grace, all of which came from Corrine. I watch Mama’s journey tear my mom apart as she descended into the abyss of Alzheimer’s and passed on a little over 24 hours after my 28th birthday. Her death was a slow and painful acceptance of the next life while surrounded by loved ones. She was 92 and had lived a long life, Alzheimer’s notwithstanding. Still, there was this lingering feeling of being robbed of the time we had with her before the identity and memory of us was as gone as a fallen leaf in the fall, drifting with the wind, going miles away to roads of no return.

Cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, the trifecta of incurable diseases plaguing the continental United States of America in numbers too alarming to quantify. Alzheimer’s and dementia, together or independent of each other, are increasingly being diagnosed at earlier ages than they were 20 years ago. This finding should prompt a concern for our future, as we may remember it, should we be lucky enough to make it to our future.

Just like our concerns about global warming and equal pay, we millennials must push for legislation providing more funding to help uncover risk and predisposition factors and treat Alzheimer’s. We can make moves for global warming, but if we are too ill or suffering from fluctuating blood sugar levels or devoid of proper mental and memory functions, how can we enjoy life? After all, isn’t the goal not just to survive but to thrive? Here’s to hoping for a cure to Alzheimer’s. Hopefully, my hope is not as bleak as the look in my grandmother’s eyes the last time I told her I loved her.  

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