As we grow old, the beauty steals inward.
- Bronson Alcott
- Bronson Alcott
Nana (my Grandmother, Gram to me but Nana to the boys, her great-grandchildren) turned 85 Saturday. Our birthdays are exactly a week and 40 years apart. Looking back now, it seems strange that she was a grandmother at 40. I’m 45 and my kids are barely teenagers, but back then things were different, she was different. Nana has Alzheimer’s. It started about a year before my Grandfather died. At first it was little things, not remembering what entrance she used when she went to the mall, leaving food in the oven or microwave, adding or leaving out ingredients in recipes, just little ordinary things that happen to us regular folks all the time, but Nana’s forgetfulness worsened. By the time my grandfather passed away she was in the beginning stages of the disease and has gotten progressively worse since. That first year after he died was hell for all of us. She was combative, she was mean, she swore!! This woman who I had never heard utter a nasty word in her life started speaking like a sailor. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I would scold her for her swearing, all the while trying not to laugh while I did it.
That first year was hell for all of us. Watching this woman that we all loved just fall to pieces was unbearable at times. She moved into assisted living into a lock down unit. She hated it. She cursed when we would visit. She wanted to go home. She would ask about her washer and dryer of all things. Every time we’d visit she’s say “how is my washer and dryer?” and my mother would tell her they were fine. Sounds crazy right but that’s the way her brain worked. You begin to wonder if there is anything left of the person that this disease took from you.
I had only one moment with her in the past 5 years that she was my Gram again. We were sitting in her room about a month after she moved into the facility and we were talking about nothing in particular and she was chatting away and then suddenly her face just changed. I can’t explain it, but I could see in her eyes she was back and she looked at me and said, “Don’t you think for a minute that I don’t know I’m going crazy”. That was it. As fast as she came back, she was gone again and she’s never returned. So that was our moment. The last of my Gram that I will keep locked away inside me forever. Sometimes I see this quiet desperation in her eyes and I wonder if she is having a moment of clarity and is horrified at what she’s become. Cruel as it sounds, I hope the moments of clarity are few and far between, because she would be just as shocked at who she is now as we are.
I tell my boys about her before the disease, how she was an expert seamstress and sewed almost all of my clothes when I was younger. She even made all the girls in the neighborhood that I grew up in matching bikinis one year. Oh were we thrilled. It was 1974 and we all had bathing suits made out of material that looked like bandanas. We were totally cool. She crocheted and knitted too. Every woman we knew had one of her beautiful knitted purses. She was a great cook, soup being one of her specialties and every Easter she would make ham & cheese pies and rice pies. She was married to a man who loved her so deeply that even without knowing them; you could just look at them and see it. If you show her a picture of my Grandfather now, she will tell you she has no idea who “that man” is. Thank goodness he isn’t here to see that. It would have crushed him.
So on her birthday a little part of me mourned for a person who is not dead. Who is here among the living but is not really living at all and what saddens me more than anything is that my kids will never really know her, the beautiful, kind, and sweet lady that she was. The talented, patient, loving person I grew up with. The real Nana that would have loved to have been all that and more to them.