The Gift MAG

August 18, 2011
By Andrew Briggs BRONZE, Simsbury, Connecticut
Andrew Briggs BRONZE, Simsbury, Connecticut
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

“You’ve never been here before!” my mom said with a sharp, new edge to her voice. Even though these words were directed to my grandmother sitting next to me in the back seat, my head snapped up at the tone. In the instant that I met my mother’s eyes, I remembered the talk we had when I was nine and found out that my grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease.

Back then it was just another mysterious disease which did not have an effect on my life. I rarely saw my grandmother. Even though I knew there was something wrong when my parents sat me down and had a grave talk about her illness, the information went right through one ear and out the other. It did not seem real, and, therefore, I considered my grandma’s ailment as just another bit of news to be shoveled back into the compartment of my mind where I keep those things which are imaginary. But my mother’s voice and the look in her eyes illuminated that compartment. Reality now upset my imagination.

Here we were, four years later, traveling along Route 91 on our way back to Rhode Island and the beach house my parents had rented for a week’s vacation, perhaps the last vacation my grandmother would be well enough to spend with us. Since my grandma was the smallest person in the car, she sat in between my friend Ross and me. Every now and then she would look over at me, and I would give her a wink and a smile, which she returned.

Ross was a little nervous around Grandma because she kept asking the same questions again and again. Although he smiled, it looked more like a nervous grimace to me. Everyone should have been in a laid-back, let’s-take-a-break-from-everyday-life mode, but it was like we were traveling with a new exchange student, someone who no longer spoke our language. The best way to communicate with her was through the eyes and through laughter. Actually, I was enjoying her new “don’t sweat the details” way of looking at life. She had a funny laugh and was behaving like a mischievous little brother.

When Grandma saw the sailboats in the harbor, her wrinkled face relaxed and she looked like the young school girl she must have once been. Overcome with glee, she exclaimed, “I remember when I was here before.” This was the comment that evoked the sharp response from my mother. I immediately flushed with anger at my mother’s voice, but when I looked in her eyes I saw more than anger equal to my own; I saw her frustration seeing her mother, the woman she looked up to her whole life, losing ground, and fear because of everything that must be faced in the future. Even though my mother only paused momentarily before taking charge in her lawyerly fashion, I saw in that silence a need I could fill. I could build a bridge and in so doing cross into adulthood, as I allowed my grandmother to ease back into innocence. The process would help us all.

Seeing my mother and grandmother had reached uncharted water, I threw them a line. I asked Grandma what her favorite seafood was. Once again, her eyes brightened and she licked her lips with new appetite. She asked me if we could stop somewhere to eat lobster. I nodded enthusiastically and any discomfort Grandma felt from her verbal exchange with Mom was completely erased as neatly as erasing chalk off a blackboard. I quickly filled the blank board with new facts and equations, ignoring the fact that these too would be erased from Grandma’s memory, possibly forever.

My grandmother died two years later, but she left me a valuable gift. For the first time, I had faced a difficult situation on equal footing with my parents, and Grandma’s smile and wit encouraged me to take the lead.

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