I am my Grandma J’s favorite. I can write that freely because everyone from my siblings, to my parents, to her, knows that that is true.
When I was growing up, I thought she was rich because she took me to McDonald’s. She also took me and my sisters on road trips. I can remember one time going into Ponderosa on one such trip and announcing that I had never been in a “fancy” place like that before. (That was really difficult to type without immense giggling; I only giggled a little.) Now that I am an adult and I understand how little she actually lived on, as a divorcee determined to make it on her own, I am impressed with her budgeting.
She spoiled me with lots of love and lots of attention and I spent many weekends at her one bedroom apartment. I actually decided to become a physical therapist at the age of 13 because I was staying with her for a couple of weeks when she had broken her elbow and I attended her therapy sessions with her and I thought it was a “cool” job. I never second-guessed myself and went bulldozing on ahead without really knowing what I was getting myself into, so I guess it is a good thing that it was a good fit for me.
She always bailed me out. My first semester of PT school, I had sticker shock when I realized that my books for the fall semester totaled $900. I had no idea how I was going to pay for them and was in panic mode when a couple of weeks later, a check for $900 came to my apartment. (I should probably go ahead and apologize to my siblings because I know she never paid for your books.) She bailed me out a couple of more times over the years. I always paid her back but I always knew I could count on her when times were tough.
She saved my life and completely changed my perspective on everything. Five years ago, we were desperate to get out of our one-bedroom condo. We were looking at house after house, but nothing seemed to be going right. I was out for lunch and shopping with her and I was lamenting how stressful it was when she looked at me and snapped, “It’s only stressful because YOU are making it stressful.” She was right and from that point forward I (mostly) stopped making things stressful for myself. (This is why my house is a mess and I do not care.)
She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a little over two years ago. The symptoms seemed to come out of nowhere, but in retrospect, I think there were some warning signs. She lives in a nursing home now, but she is as happy as ever, generally thinking that she is away at college, or in a shopping mall, or at a restaurant, or at an apartment.
We went to visit her tonight and brought pizza. She kept commenting on how she wanted salt for her salad. She was not trying to be a pest, she will generally ask me what the weather is like no less than 20 times in a single visit. At one point she looked at me and frowned and I said to her, “I get the feeling that you wish you had salt.” She agreed and I chuckled in my head. You have to do things like that to keep your own sanity.
While my brothers took my boys out to the open grass to kick around the soccer ball, we visited. She looked at me and said, “Your mother is?” This was the first time she did not know who I was and it stuck like a knife.
“Donna,” I said, “Gene’s wife.”
She looked at me blankly. I asked her if she knew my name.
“Brenda?” she asked.
“No,” I said, “I am your granddaughter, Jill.”
“Jill,” she repeated, but her eyes were blank, my name did not seem to ring a bell.
Within a minute, it had passed, and she seemed to know me again.
From the time of her diagnosis, I knew that this moment was coming. But then again, I didn’t. It is like watching the movie “Titanic,” and hoping that the ship will inexplicably miss the iceberg or somehow stay afloat, even though you know the ending. It was far more heart wrenching than I thought it would be. It is terrible to watch this disease take away the memories that she spent a lifetime making.
It is hard to find the blessings in this situation, but there are some. It is mostly hard for us, the people that love her. She is happy, relatively pain-free, and completely unaware that her memory is slipping away. She is well-taken care of and she is loved, and for that I will always be thankful.