I have a hard time accepting my great-grandmother’s Alzheimer’s. Mostly, this is because it doesn’t really seem like Alzheimer’s. When I see her and talk to her, she’s coherent and loving — barely present, already leaving, but still aware. She knows me. She knows Connor, even though she only met him once, two years ago. She makes sense when she talks. I don’t see her very often. Once or twice a year on average, and it’s currently been well over a year. Still, it just doesn’t make sense.
There are a lot of reasons for me to have a hard time with this: I love her. She practically raised me when I was very small. She has always been on a bit of a pedestal for me. I know that my family mostly doesn’t like her. Love her, yes. Like her, not so much. I know that my aunt, who first cried dementia, mostly wants my great-grandmother’s money. I know that my grandmother, who is caring for her now, is very busy and completely unsentimental. I hesitate to call her cold because she has been amazingly kind and loving to me on occasion, but she is definitely a harshly practical woman with a lot on her plate. It’s easy to put your elderly mother into a home and check in often; it’s less easy to look at what’s really going on and deal with the situation holistically. (In the sense of taking care of the entire picture, every problem as a whole.)
My great-grandmother isn’t prone to outbursts. She doesn’t think it’s 1937, or that her daughter is her young sister. She hasn’t forgotten the details and timeline of her life. It seems to me that she’s just old, and very tired. She has a hard time taking care of herself. A really hard time, to be honest — when she was still living independently she would often go outside in just a T-shirt and underwear to water the lawn. She stopped cooking for herself, stopped taking care of her garden, stopped doing pretty much everything. I can see why, after a year or two of doing everything for her, my aunt had enough. I can’t see why my aunt assumed that my great-grandmother stopped doing these things because she’d forgotten how. She hadn’t and hasn’t forgotten. She’s just so damn tired.
When she forgets things, it’s like normal forgetting compounded by age. She calls people by the wrong names a lot, but never (as far as I’ve seen) in a way that indicates she really thinks those names are correct. It’s more like a mother of five running the gamut (“Billy — Adam — Susie — I mean, DAWN!”) than it confusion regarding who she’s speaking to. She spends most of her day in silence and doesn’t ever really engage in conversations, but it doesn’t seem like she’s somewhere else. It just seems like she’s tired, and maybe in her 94 years she’s said all she needs to say.
I can accept that maybe she just doesn’t care anymore. That’s really how it feels — like she’s done, she’s ready to go, and she’s not interested in chitchat while she waits for the train. She seems very peaceful to me, both in person and on the phone. She’s waiting, I think, in a holding pattern before she goes somewhere better. She’s ready to be with her husband, with her mother, and with her creator. She’s not part of here anymore. She reminds me of someone engaged in a creative task that requires a high level of concentration, giving only the vaguest of attention to everything else around her. What she does not remind me of is a person with Alzheimer’s. She does not remind me of someone with dementia. It’s not that I’ve had a lot of experience with these things, but I have had some. I just don’t see it. It’s very hard to know whether I’m not seeing it because it’s not there or whether I’m not seeing it because it’s not what I want to see. It’s hard to know where the lines are. Some of my great-grandmother’s behavior over the past few years could definitely be called weird, and it’s definitely stuff she never did before, but it just doesn’t feel like she’s losing herself.
It feels, instead, like she’s losing us. Letting us go. Letting herself go, and not in the skipping-lipstick sense. I just wish there was a little more dignity for her. I wish her age didn’t make it so easy to label her demented and a nuisance. I wish it were possible to say, “You know what? Maybe this is just how she needs to be, maybe we should just let her be.” I feel like she should spent the last of her life the way she spent the rest of it — on her own terms, doing her own thing, saying “balderdash” to anyone who didn’t like it. I want to let her be my Grammy all the way to the end.
Apparently, once I break the seal on a subject stuff just gushes out. Sorry for two very similar entries in one week, guys.