As I watched my Twitter stream explode this evening with talk of Whitney Houston’s passing, as I watched as people reminisced about seeing her in concert, about what their favorite songs were, about how tragic this news is, I was doing some reflecting of my own, but it wasn’t about my favorite Whitney Houston song (PS. It’s Greatest Love of All) and while it was about the news of death of a strong woman today, this one hit a little bit closer to home.
Because she was my grandmother.
I saw her last a few days after Christmas.
Although, if I’m being honest, it really wasn’t my grandmother.
Sure, she looked an awful lot like her, but it was not her. She was a woman whose body and mind were riddled with a shitty, shitty disease called Alzheimer’s. She was a woman who lived in a lovely home in Georgia, where they sat her in the sun and sang to her and read to her and cooked for her and loved on her.
But she didn’t know who she was. She didn’t know where she was. She didn’t recognize me or my sister-in-law or my brother or my father or my stepmom. She didn’t recognize Emily or Joshua or Isabella or any of my nieces. She didn’t remember how to use the bathroom. She didn’t remember how to use utensils. She didn’t remember her words well enough to string coherent sentences together. She didn’t remember the difference between laughing and crying.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the end stages of this disease make an elderly person behave so similarly to an infant. All my grandmother needed to be happy were smiling faces and some colorful stuffed animals and fuzzy slippers. She responded with grins and bright eyes to the laughter and singing of children and sunshine.
Full circle, or something.
They told us that she occasionally used the names of my Grandpa. Of my dad. Of my sister. Of me. There were shades of her that escaped her lips—but they were not memories, they were not happy thoughts. They were simply automatic.
She did not know that she used to wear a lot of track suits.
She did not know that she used to let us buy marshmallow cereal and allow us to pick out all of the marshmallows and toss the cereal in the garbage.
She did not know that she always carried salad dressing packets in her purse.
She did not know that she gave me $1.47 in Canadian coins as a wedding gift.
She did not know that she used to know every single thing that ever happened on the Young and the Restless.
She did not know that Emily was her favorite and she was a big fan of telling me that Emily was never going to get lost in this world.
She did not know that her favorite foods were Smart Ones.
She did not know that the only gifts she ever gave us were the $75 checks we used to get at our birthdays and Chanukah.
She did not know that she used to love to take us to Jack’s in Cleveland.
She did not know that the “chai” belt buckle she gave my husband was, like, the greatest gift he ever got.
She didn’t know her stories, her legacy, who she REALLY was.
But we know. And so we told our kids these stories in the car on the way to see her. And we told our kids these stories in the car on the way home from seeing her.
And we tell our kids these stories today, when we tell them that she is gone.
Because that’s who we want them to remember.
That’s who *I* want to remember.
That’s who she’d want us to remember.