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Lessons from Grandma MAG
Her heart beats, her lungs breathe, and blood runs through her veins, but her mind and memories are long gone. She has Alzheimer’s. Yet this fragile shell of a woman has impacted me more than anyone else.
During the last decade I have grown to resent my grandmother’s illness. My mother has turned into an overbearing ball of stress, and her constant nagging and yelling have severed any relationship between us. Because of her illness, my grandmother has accused innocent people of stealing personal belongings, turned off my grandfather’s oxygen tank, and belittled the Catholic Church by leaving her collection envelopes empty. In spite of her poor behavior, my grandmother and her disease have taught me many important things.
Foremost, my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s has taught me to be patient. In the earlier stages of her mental atrophy, she frequently called our house. A typical conversation went like this: “Hello?” she would say.
“Hi, Grandma … how are you?” I would answer.
“Fine … Is your mother home?”
The answer was always “No” even if she was. Then, “Okay, just checking to see how my girls are doing … Bye.”
“Talk to you later, Grandma. Bye.”
Five minutes later, the phone would ring again, and the conversation would be repeated. After the tenth call, it became much harder for me to be sympathetic and I’d shut the ringer off.
As her disease progressed, the calls increased to 25 a day. At some point I realized how selfish I was being by not answering my grandmother’s calls simply because I felt the repetitive conversation was a waste of my time. What if I missed an emergency call? From then on I picked up the phone so Grandma would have someone to talk to, even if she couldn’t remember whom she had called.
My grandmother also taught me about shame. I have always been apprehensive about having people meet my family; however, I had never hidden them from friends – until my grandmother’s disease.
It hurts to admit it, but when I started dating my current boyfriend I was never more ashamed to introduce anyone to my grandmother. Inevitably, everything I hoped she wouldn’t say or do around my boyfriend she did. Seven times, she told the story of how her parrot sings “Blue Moon,” and five times she said, “Hi. How are you? … Who are you?” Then when we sat down to eat, my poor grandmother, who had forgotten to eat breakfast, stuffed her face in a very crude manner.
My cheeks burned the entire visit. This was not the grandmother I wanted my boyfriend to know. I wanted him to meet the woman who told jokes, who got overly excited when she won five dollars on a lottery ticket, and who baked the best Sicilian pizza in Middletown. But I knew that the woman I had been so proud to call my grandmother was now just a memory. I was too ashamed to even call her “Grandma.” I knew he understood that her disease caused her odd behavior, but I still felt the need to apologize and make excuses for her actions. Although he reassured me that I had no reason to be embarrassed, I went to bed that night with my cheeks still flaming.
The next morning I woke feeling guilty. This time I was not ashamed of my grandmother but myself. I couldn’t believe that I had let myself hate the woman who had practically raised me, because she had a disease she couldn’t control. I realized that I should never feel the need to explain my grandmother’s behavior to anyone. She is my grandmother. My love for her is undeterred by anyone’s opinions.
I cannot thank my grandmother enough for helping me grow into the patient, appreciative, and understanding woman I am today. As a result of my experience with my grandma’s Alzheimer’s, I have made it my goal to give back to those suffering with the illness, whether through research for a cure or providing support for families coping with the disease.
Her influence on my life has given me the moral strength necessary to reach my goal. My grandma has given me the patience to work until I achieve my dreams and a strong appreciation for myself, my family, and all that I have earned. Most important, my grandmother has given me a greater understanding of what it means to fully live each day without regrets.