I've debated about writing something about my grandma's Alzheimer’s and myself for a while. Writing is a release for me and right now I need one. I hope you read this and thank you if you do.
I remember doing a presentation on Alzheimer’s in college and the other students in my class saying how it was the worst thing they could possibly imagine happen to their loved ones. I remember listening to them and wanting to cry.
At this time, she hadn’t forgotten who I was but the combination of college work and knowing each day that how she was today would be the best she’d ever be again caused me to be very depressed. Being the shy person that I was, I contemplated speaking to someone about it, but never did. I should have. I ask myself why I didn’t quite often.
I don’t like to see my grandma. I admit I will avoid going to see her. It’s the most selfish thing I’ve ever thought, but I can’t help it. I hope you don’t judge me for it. I love my grandma. But it takes such an emotional toll on me after every visit that every time it takes me longer to pull myself back together.
Today, we put my grandma into a home. Nearly five years after we first suspected something was wrong, the time came that she could no longer stay at home. Her Alzheimer’s has progressed enough that she needs 24/7 care. Something that my elderly grandfather can’t provide.
This afternoon, I went with my mam to my grandparents’ house to pick my grandma up. Seeing the garden that was her pride and joy so overgrown and neglected made me want to start crying before we’d even got there.
I played with their dog while my mam packed her clothes into a suitcase. As my grandad explained which pills she should take and when, I could hear my grandma in another part of the house talking to herself. She often talks to herself in mirrors or reflective surfaces because she doesn’t know her own face.
With the car packed with her clothes and box of adult nappies, it was time to go. My grandad started to cry. While we put her coat on, he told her he’d see her soon and she gave him a confused look. He kissed her on the cheek. She turned to me and began to cry. “You’re making me cry. That was lovely. Thank you,” she told him.
“You can come with us you know,” my mam said to my grandad.
“No,” he answered.
In the car, she turned and smiled to me in the back. That look is what breaks my heart each time. It’s the empty smile you give a stranger. A polite one.
At the top of their drive, there’s a gap between the bushes that lets you see down to the kitchen window. Every time I have visited my grandparents’ house in the 20 years I've been alive, I have stopped to wave at them. They'd always be leaning on the counter waiting to wave back. We stopped at the spot, my mam and I waved, and my grandma watched us while we did it. I wanted to tell her to remember to wave, but she wouldn’t know what I was talking about.
At the nursing home, we walked her slowly inside as she can’t walk very long distances any more. As I helped, she patted my cheek and said, “You’re lovely.” I smiled back.
We sat her down and one of the nurses gave her a cup of tea. After taking a sip she told us how lovely it was, how much better it was than what she used to get at the last place. Her house for the last 30 years was now ‘that place’. She didn’t understand that she was now in a nursing home.
We labelled all her clothes with her name and put them in her drawers and cupboard. One the nurses came to ask us some questions about her. Does she eat? Yes. Does she take from other people’s plates? Yes. We explained that she was doubly incontinent. The nurse reassured us that they had seen it all. Nothing could surprise them. She told us not to worry. I wanted to thank her over and over for the work she does. Throughout my grandma sat, quietly watching, completely unaware that we were talking about her.
My grandma’s room is opposite a women she used to live two doors down from for 25 years. “It’s Rita, grandma,” I told her. “Oh,” she said.
My mam went to say hello and chat to Rita for a few minutes and it was quiet between me and my grandma. Years ago, I used to tell her everything, visiting her after school to chat. Now she can’t hold a conversation, she just can't follow it along. My mam and Rita laughed about something across the hall. “Someone’s happy over there,” she said to me. I nodded back. ‘That’s your daughter!’ I wanted to say. Instead I smiled and made comments about the room, about her tea that had now gone cold. She explained to me how she’d gotten the tea, as if I hadn’t been there. I acted like I didn’t know what she was telling me.
When we were leaving, she sat, oblivious of being in a strange room with strange people. My mam kissed her on the cheek. She laughed and made a surprised face at me. I kissed her on the cheek too. “I’m getting so many kisses,” she said. “Thank you.” She started to cry.
Driving away my mam said to me, “If I ever end up like that, please hit me over the head with a frying pan. I don’t want to go into a home.”
“Do you know who else always said that?” I asked her.