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On Dementia

I am half reluctant to submit this to anything. Mostly because this is a personal write for me, especially since it's a huge part of my family right now. But, I think it has a good meaning, and that is what I hope to share to anybody who reads this. This passage is about my grandmother, who is suffering from dementia or what seems to be developing Alzheimer's.

She is 83 years old right now. She struggles to recognize my family's faces, bursts into angry fits and doesn't remember that she does, and spends most of her days writing in her notebook in Vietnamese. We don't quite know what she is writing, only that it keeps her from getting any angry fits, and that she can't remember how to do anything else. My grandmother lives entirely on medicine now. She has this schedule you see, when to take medicine and what medicine, and from a few glances of it, it's a very rigorous one indeed. But she is not weak.

She's had a major bypass surgery, gout. She's lost two of her children to cancer (my aunt and uncle) and lost many friends as she aged. Despite having dementia and Alzheimer's, there's still a bit of grandma left. She still has a big appetite, and knows she likes shrimp. She still smiles when she sees me and calls me by my name, for now.

Up from the day I was born, my grandparents would drive up all the way to see me and make sure I was happy and healthy. When the going got tough, my grandmother would pray for my family, my friends, and me. She loved to make clothing, and all of the time, I would get handmade gifts from her. Back then, I never knew how much it meant. Now, her hands shake and she doesn't remember how to knit sometimes. I mean, she still helps me with scarves, as long as It's the basics.

About two years ago, my grandmother would lose her temper easily with my family members. We couldn't understand why. We'd ask her why she yelled, but she couldn't remember. Then, I began to become somewhat vexed by her spontaneous bouts of temperament, and tried to avoid her.

However, this Christmas, Grandma needed my mother and me. My grandfather, now 90, was in the hospital. On Christmas, there would be nobody to take care of Grandma and give her medicine.

I was working on a scarf for my friend, but my mother told me I should give it to my grandmother to work on until my grandfather got back from the hospital. On that day, we found out that she was crying because she missed my grandfather, and did not know where he was.


My mother and I took her to see him at the hospital. There he was, plugged up to something to help him breathe. If anyone has ever met my grandfather, he's usually full of so much life. I mean, he's the one who got my family to this country about a few days before Vietnam fell. Confining him to anything was
pretty hard. He was robust, industrious, and it was so hard to see him, finally weak.


My grandmother pulled out a seat and sat beside him. As usual, she was very quiet, but she was smiling. We gave Grandpa a box of chocolates and nuts for Christmas (see, he has this high appreciation for chocolate) and told us how he wished to get better and be productive again, instead of being stuck at the hospital.

Eventually, we had to leave. About that time, my grandmother walked up to my grandfather and announced in Vietnamese that she had to leave. They held each other's hands and he told her not to be sad anymore, because he would be coming home really soon. They have been together for over half a century. They had fallen in love with one another in Vietnam. He was a young ophthalmologist and she was known for her kindness and beauty. They had fallen in love after being introduced by my grandpa, a one year older big brother (who had taken a liking to her as well.) Then, after dating, they married and had a family of their own.

Age had hindered both of them greatly, but they still continue to love each other. My grandfather is very meticulous with taking care of my grandmother. Sometimes, I think he puts her well being over his own. It's probably an instinct developed from being a doctor, but he loves he enough to wake her up in
the morning, give her medication, soothe her whenever she feels angry or sad, and takes her for walks to keep up her health.


That being said, that was exactly what Mom and I had to do for Grandma. We ended up having our Christmas dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. It was not exactly a feast of any kind, but my grandmother was very happy for once. She asked me if I could drive yet, and if I was feeling happy.

We finished the meal and went home. Mom and I were staying overnight, in case Grandma needed us. At this time, I didn't understand why she had bursts of anger. In fact, I was wondering why she hadn't had any.

Well, since we were new to Grandpa's very meticulous medicine schedule for Grandma, we received quite a fright at around eight o'clock.

This time, we weren't sure what caused it. I recognized the as the angry bursts I was familiar with. We then realized she hadn't taken her medicine. We gave that to her and she instantly calmed down.

Additional to the medicine schedule, we were still unfamiliar with Grandma's snack schedule, which was of equal importance almost. We received another scare about less than an hour after. Of course, as I was back at home I became a bit frustrated, but this time, I realized something.

"Mom, why does Ban Ngoai (Grandmother) keep getting angry at us?" I asked my mother, "We are just helping her."

My mother explained to me that when my grandmother's blood sugar is low, she becomes very irritable and begins to snap at anyone around her. Then, it finally made sense to me. She couldn't help it. I regret all of the negative feelings I ever felt before about my grandmother. I mean, I have always loved and respected my grandmother, but I became resentful of the yelling. This experience was the first time in years I had a good, long conversation with her.

There were several more scares, but then, we had to get her some sleeping pills to sleep. She took them as she continued writing and writing.

Well, we did not know if we were supposed to tell her to go to bed or not. So, we ended not doing so. See, as kind as my grandmother is (and when she was younger, quite adamant about manners) she has this quality of being quite stubborn. She never liked being bossed around by anybody, and preferred to
adhere to her own common sense.


An hour passed and there she was. Still writing. That is when my mother and I told her to get ready for bed. She stood up, but was hunched over with half open lids, smiling at us.

We had to take her to the bathroom so that she could brush her teeth and wash her face. However, my mom told me to go in, in case Grandma was going to fall or something.

Grandma washed her face, still very tired, and bent over. Then, all of a sudden, she looked at the mirror strangely. I was again, believing that she was going to be angry, but incredibly, she began to chuckle as she squinted in the mirror.
She turned to me and pointed at the mirror and said, "There are two of you."

She walked over to another mirror and giggled, "What? There are three of you!"

Around this time, I found myself laughing in spite of this. She has a very infectious laugh. My mother heard the commotion in the bathroom and was alarmed, so she came to investigate.

Then, Grandma noticed a fourth mirror behind her and laughed, though a bit puzzled. "No, there are four of you?"

If there's something that's even more incredible than anything that was happening, it was that my mother burst into laughter, almost to the point she cried. Again, if anyone has ever met my mom, she's an uptight business woman at times. I have never seen my mother laugh so much, and my grandma, who was quite confused was even surprised and laughed, too.

All right, at this time, we knew she had to sleep. We ushered her to bed only for her to suddenly recall that she forgot to brush her teeth in the midst of hysterics.

A few hours later my mother and grandmother were asleep. My sleeping problems were keeping me antsy at two forty something AM at the morning. So, I did some snooping around my grandmother's stuff.


My grandmother has pretty interesting possessions. She collected lots of things from her trips around the world, wrote letters, and kept a notebook. She had very neat handwriting, kind of like my cursive when I make it nice. I can't read a lot of Vietnamese, but I wanted to check out her notebook. The first thing about her notebook is that it's quite a lot of writing. And there were different things.

One, I had no idea she was keeping a diary. Another, she was copying down an old Vietnamese cookbook that was falling apart. (if there is something I learned from learning Vietnamese, it is that I know what chicken is in that language.)

The diary, to be honest, I couldn't understand most of it. Also the only reason I got to search for it was because all of a sudden, Grandma got up to wash her face again at that hour.


But, my ability to skim over words really helped. Long story short, from reading that, I saw my Vietnamese name, my sister's, and my cousins. And I found out that she loved us very much.


Well, before I could absorb myself in the impact, grumpy Grandma came in from the bathroom, glared at me, and went to sleep. Still, it really hit me though. The definite thing that my grandmother mentioned that she loved were her grandchildren, who she used to take care of.

And now, she needed us to take care of her. And that, I was going to do. I mean it. I understood her so much better, and I try to spend as much time with her as I can, even when comes the time she forgets me.

We left the next day. She was in high spirits and I hugged her. She told me that she loved me and that I should do well a school and stop being sad all of the time, because things would get better. I left my friend's scarf there for her to keep busy. She finished it now.

You know, everyone's been told to cherish times spent with grandparents, even me. I knew, but didn't understand. Well, until you really mature, you see much more to grandparents then sluggish, aged family members who may seem boring at times. As a kid, you don’t ever see this kind of thing happening. You can dream about the future all you want, but it’s not really going to do a thing until it’s right there in front of you. It took me too long to recognize and appreciate my grandparents , but now in these times, I fully understand what true love is. As my grandmother gave me, I will give back to her. I'll never fulfill my debt to my grandparents, but I'll help them whenever I can because...


Con thuong Ong Ba Ngoai. (I love you, Grandpa and Grandma.)




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