“Ma! That’s a newspaper. It’s not for eating!” we heard my dad say to his mother. no smile. no sarcasm. no anger. no frustration. just a matter-of-fact statement. like he says it every day. like it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
and then my sister and i burst out laughing, because, well, it was just so ridiculous. and then it hit us. just how ridiculous this disease is. what it’s done to my grandmother. to her body. to her mind.
she is not my grandmother.
grandma cherie was always a puzzle to me. she wore a lot of track suits. she fed us copious amounts of count chocula cereal. she never forgave her sons for marrying out of the Jewish faith. she left my sister and me by the side of the road once and drove off. she struggled with anorexia for years. she rarely smiled. she always carried her own salad dressings in her purse. she sent me a $75 check for every birthday and Chanukah. she watched a lot of the Young and the Restless. she didn’t hug. or snuggle. or say ‘i love you’. she didn’t cook or bake. she was rude to waitresses. she nicknamed my sister “wanda the witch” and called her that FOR YEARS. she gave me about $1.47 in canadian coins as a wedding gift. no joke. as. a. wedding. gift.
she was a bitter, bitter woman.
and then the Alzheimer’s took over her body.
and suddenly she was nice. and warm. and kind. and hugged. and smiled. and told me she loved me. and loved on my children. and told me that my Emily was never going to get lost in this world.
and then she said it again. and again. and again.
because she couldn’t remember that she was saying it. and slowly she’d forget. and forget some more. and forget some more.
she forgot how much distaste she’d had for my stepmom, who decided that she was going to take care of my grandmother, no matter what.Â she took her shopping, for lunch, to get her hair done. she took her to movies, to plays, on trips.
and when her mind got more and more confused, my stepmom came more and more often. when my grandmother was moved from the assisted living wing to the full-on care wing, my stepmom came more and more. and she still took her to lunch, and shopping and to get her hair done.
and when she forgot to eat, my stepmom reminded her.
and when she forgot that she loved to watch the Young and the Restless, my stepmom reminded her.
and when she forgot how to dress, my stepmom reminded her.
and when she forgot to use the bathroom, my stepmom changed her.
and when she forgot who i was, my stepmom reminded her. “This is Alicia. Steve’s daughter” and when she forgot who Steve was, my stepmom reminded her. “Steve is your son, Cherie” and when she forgot who my stepmom was, my stepmom reminded her.
and when she forgets that newspaper isn’t food, my stepmom tells her. or my dad tells her. or i tell her.
My grandmother is gone. She is just a shell of a woman. She likes to sit in the sun. She likes to smile at people. and she likes when my stepmom comes to visit her. She likes when my Emily and I come to visit her. Even if she has no idea who my Emily is. and even if Emily doesn’t understand why her greatgrandma doesn’t remember her. and even if the tears well up in my eyes because i just want my grandma back. i want the one who was mean and didn’t smile or hug or cook or bake. the one i am not sure i loved when i was growing up….the one i am not sure i even liked. i just want to laugh about getting $1.47 in canadian change and not about a shitty, shitty disease.