My feet dangled freely from the wooden dining room chair as I dunked my chocolate chip cookies into a mug of milk. As I ate, I watched my favourite television show, Full House, on the bulky brown television set in the corner of my grandparent’s kitchen.

I liked this episode a lot so far. I had never seen it before. The oldest daughter DJ went to a building where grandparents lived. I really liked to see her with them because I spent my whole day with my grandparents. I wondered where the grandchildren in the show were, but I couldn’t figure it out. I was very happy when DJ befriended a nice old man.

I slurped my milk loudly as DJ brought her grandfather friend home. This was a really nice episode. I couldn’t wait for DJ’s younger sisters to meet the man too! But then suddenly the music changed, and I got a bad feeling in my tummy that something bad was going to happen. And then it did. Along with the music, the old man suddenly changed. He was confused and far away. He couldn’t remember where he was. He called DJ by the wrong name! I felt sick.

“ABUELA!” I bellowed for my grandmother as the show cut to a commercial break. She was by my side in an instant. Panic seeped through my voice as I explained the scene. I knew she would be able to explain it to me. She was the smartest person I knew. She knew everything. She knew how to cook delicious food, she knew where to find all of my toys, and she knew all about the mysterious world that existed beyond our suburban walls. She was my grandmother, my first teacher and my favourite person on earth.

Now she nodded solemnly and sat down at the table beside me. I dunked another cookie, realizing that this scene did not have a simple explanation. It wasn’t just make believe like the wrestling shows my brother watched. This was real. She revealed in her most serious voice, “that man has a disease that some people get. They forget things.”

“The other day I forgot my favourite nail polish at home,” I interrupted, worried. “Remember?”

“Everyone forgets things sometimes,” my grandmother explained. “But people with this condition they forget really big things. They forget where they live. Who their children are. Who they are.”

A chill ran down my spine, freezing the hand holding my cookie in mid air. “What if I get this disease?!”

“You can’t.” My grandma reassured me, “only old people get it.”

Old people like my grandparents?! They were the oldest people I knew. My soggy cookie broke free from my fingertips and plunged back into my cup. Milk splashed all over me and the table. My eyes filled with tears and my lower lip began to tremble. As always, my grandma knew just what to do. She sprang from her chair and returned with a paper towel.

I sat there listlessly and watched as the characters on Full House explained to DJ what my grandmother had just explained to me. DJ took the news much better than I was. I found it incredibly hard to accept. It scared me. I knew people got older. I knew their hair turned white and that their skin wrinkled. And my grandmother was always saying that people’s bodies even shrank as they got older. I always found that hilarious. But there was absolutely nothing funny about forgetting who you are.

That was the day I started worrying about my grandparents health.

1996

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32 thoughts on “The Illness

  1. We all, start to worry about our elders at one time or another in our lives, and, sometimes, it’s, hard, to cope with these worries that will bug us, and we just, need to constantly remember, that everything will work itself out, the way it’s supposef to…

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Alzheimer’s and dementia are some of the scariest diseases out there. My grandma has Alzheimer’s and watching her slip away and become more and more confused is heartbreaking. However whenever I look in her eyes even when she forgets my name, I know she still loves me. That’s what you have to try to remember is that no matter what they love you

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    1. That’s the one thing I never expected. I always worried about the day that she would forget me. But she never “forgets.” Even when she doesn’t know who we are, the love and bond that unites us is still there.

      Thanks for reading 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well told. An interesting examination of when you first became aware of not only this illness, but of fear for the health of your grandparents. I can remember my own grandmother telling me, “If you have your health, then you have everything.”

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      1. Hmmm…. I’ve had that happen, too, not sure why.
        OK, I copied and pasted it, in case you’re interested. Here it is:

        Perspective on Alzheimer’s

        “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2
        The above verse is one I had known for a long time, and at one point I had even considered myself to be a patient, gentle person. But when my father began to show signs of dementia, I began to suspect that I was possibly not the nice person I had believed myself to be.
        When Dad first started showing signs of short-term memory loss, it was something neither of us was ready to accept. He reacted with his own form of denial. When asking me to repeat myself, instead of saying, “I forgot what you just said,” he would say, “I guess I wasn’t paying attention.” Having frequently just come from a day of teaching and dealing with seemingly inattentive high school students, I found myself getting irritated. Why should I bother to tell him things if he’s not paying attention? I would wonder, being in my own state of denial. Deep down I knew there was another problem, over which he had no control and which was only going to get worse with time. I would repeat the statement with a little more intensity (Pay attention this time!) feeling my own level of stress beginning to rise.
        Bible verses about patience and kindness and compassion only added guilt to my emotional state, which was already being stretched to limits I was not used to. There were starting to be times when my sweet father could sense my frustration with him, and I’d see tears in his eyes. Knowing I had hurt him broke my heart, but try as I might, I couldn’t get a handle on my own emotions.
        One day as I cried out to God, “I can’t do this!” I found myself having returned to Square One, as the basic truth of the Gospel came back like a long-lost friend.
        Of course you can’t do this, the still, small Voice whispered. That’s why I’m here.
        Oh yeah, I thought. Duh. I confessed the sin of trying to deal with the situation in my own strength and asked the Lord to please help me.
        The first answer to that prayer came in the form of an official medical diagnosis: my father was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. This revelation confirmed that it wasn’t that Dad wasn’t paying attention to what we were saying, he genuinely couldn’t retain it. Still, there were days that even knowing this fact, I felt the impatience, like lava churning underground, disturbingly close to the surface. I continued to ask the Lord for help in behaving appropriately, even if my feelings were being irrational. The fact was, my dad was still one of the sweetest, kindest people on the planet, and he deserved my respect as much as ever, and my compassion even more.
        Then one day, in a seemingly unrelated moment, I heard something said that resembled a line in a play I had worked on in college many years ago, triggering a mental recitation of the entire scene. It occurred to me that, had I continued in theater, I would be repeating the same script night after night for as long as the play ran – twice a day if there were matinees. I felt the creativity of the Holy Spirit nudge me with an idea:
        Treat Dad as if you’re in a play. I chuckled at the thought.
        The next time we were together, Dad began asking me the usual questions, and instead of getting irritated I thought, I know this scene! OK … and playing the actress, I would say my line, wait for his line, and continue the predictable dialogue to its predictable conclusion. Then, when a few minutes later Dad asked the same questions again, I’d treat the conversation like a rehearsal, sometimes experimenting with different inflexions and deciding which one was best.
        As the disease progressed and Dad was no longer fighting it, he allowed himself to revert to the level of a little boy – a sweet, adorable little boy that delighted everyone and that everyone wanted to take care of. He was fun-loving in the most child-like ways, and whenever he told his corny jokes that we’d all heard multiple times, we would all laugh together, not necessarily because the jokes were new (far from it) or all that hilarious, but because the warmth of divine love filled the room.
        As long as I have been a believer in Jesus, there are still times I need reminding – I can’t do this Christian life by myself. Sometimes I can’t even pinpoint when I let go of the Lord’s hand and started to try going it alone, but the important thing is the coming back. He is more than ready to help, in ways we could never have dreamed up on our own.
        Prayer: Lord, how often we need reminding that we can’t do the Christian life in our own strength! Thank You for being more ready to help us than we are to ask for help. Thank you for interrupting our attempts at self-sufficiency. Thank You for being willing to make Your home in our hearts and live Your life through us. We give You free rein, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Sadly I never met any of my four grandparents. My mother was the youngest of a family and by the time I came along all four had gone. I heard a lot of stories about them, but never met them. I sometimes think it would have been really good to be able to go to visit my grandma, or my grandpa, but it never happened. Yes, sad.

    Liked by 3 people

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