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Full of Life

Death. It is a word that encompasses us all; a word we all try our best to avoid. It is a word that touches us all, yet is virtually meaningless-until the moment it touches you. If you’re lucky, your rendezvous with death will be gentle; you’ll be carried away in total serenity. But we can’t always be among the lucky ones.

My father’s mother was a woman who was constantly smiling. She always seemed to be filled with sheer happiness from living. Her eyes crinkled and lit up with love. If she had not been in my life, I would have scoffed at the idea of eyes being “lit up”. Her eyes are the only ones I have ever seen shine like that. She had the kind of smile that enveloped her entire face. That kind of smile is a rare beauty.

Six years ago, when I was nine years old, my grandmother began to slip through the cracks of life, slowly fading from our world. She had various health issues throughout her life; including diabetes and hypertension.You would have never known it, just as I had not known it at the time, because of the way her smile never left her. She began forgetting things often. At first, it seemed to be a normal part of old age. She would hesitate before saying names and forget dates, but these things were not uncommon in elderly people.


Soon after my grandmother’s memory began to deteriorate, she began to show signs of dementia. She was often confused, asking when her father would be back (he was, of course, long dead) or even when she would have to go to school. She would aimlessly wander around the house. I was young at the time, but I did not have the benefit of being innocently unaware of what was happening. My parents were both doctors who looked at situations like this with facts before emotion, and did not make any effort to make the situation seem more hopeful than it really was. Alzheimers had set in.

Alzheimers is probably the most painful disease to be involved with. Sometimes, my grandmother would walk into a room and not recognize her own husband. Sometimes it would be her children that she could not remember. Her memory was like writing an answer on a whiteboard, and then erasing it. You can still see the answer, but not clearly. It’s still there, but not quite. Her memory was not completely gone, but it was heading in that direction.

Even as my grandmother’s memory reached the point where she had no idea where she was or what she was doing, my grandmother never forgot me. It was very strange, because my father came from a family of eight, so I had a lot of relatives from his side. I was not her only grandchild, by any means. Yet I was the one she remembered when she didn’t even remember her own husband. Although her memory was gone, one thing never left my grandmother-her smile. It was still so full of life even though she wasn’t. My father and his siblings yearned for that miraculous moment of recognition from my grandmother. Something they once took for granted, their own mother knowing them, had become a rarity in such a short amount of time.

My grandmother fell into a bedridden state with no trace of humanity left. She could no longer speak, and she needed a feeding tube to eat. She also had a tube that sucked her throat because she did not remember how to swallow or breathe properly. She was still “alive”, though in many ways I felt she wasn’t. It was not death that really took my grandmother away-it was Alzheimer’s. She was dead long before her heart stopped beating.

God has a reason for everything, and my grandmother’s death was no exception. I could not stop thinking about the fact that I was the last person she could remember, the last name she said. My grandmother died on my birthday, this could not have been a coincidence either. I could not get her smile out of my head. God took everything away from her except that smile; the smile that was pure her and simply radiated life. To this day I have never seen a smile like my grandmother’s, yet there are millions of people who have more reasons to smile than she ever did. If someone like my grandmother could be smiling during a period I cringe to even think about, how could I ever have the audacity to forget to be grateful for simply being full of life? I say “full of life” instead of “alive”, because I have learned that the two will never be the same.





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