“He’s out on the town with that blonde again, I just know it!” recalling as her bangles clang against each other, orange juice in hand. “He always loved his blondes, that flirt!”
Every Saturday, my mom would unpack groceries for Grandma Jane as I would sit in the tv room on her couch; patiently, I listened as she tried desperately to reorganize memories that flooded her mind. New memories from my grandma’s past were gifted to me every Saturday. I often did not know the people or places in the memories Jane described but, I always responded enthusiastically and with compassion. I attempted to assist her in connecting the dots of a long life. I kept the stories as treasures for Jane when she could no longer remember herself.
“Hi Amanda, I couldn’t get a hold of you before, but I hope this time I did…I’m here at 908-227…tell Amanda I say Hello, bye now.”
It is heartbreaking watching someone forget their entire life before your eyes; it penetrates deep to the core. I sat in agony wishing I possessed enough power to bring memories from Grandma Jane’s life back together.
“You girls are a vision of health! Colleen, that’s a great color on you. Are we going to the show?”
Slowly, Grandma Jane forgot my name and face, confusing me for a stranger when I tried to hug her frail body goodbye. Witnessing her decline strengthened my own ability to function in times of chaos. Alzheimer’s is a ruthless disease that does not discriminate, robbing even the purest souls of their personal thoughts and successes. The unpredictability of the disease offers few guarantees, except one: conditions will worsen. Offering that gentle hand on her back or
redirecting her gaze to a photo from her earlier days instinctively came to me as methods for collecting her memories.
“Am I one hundred now?”
I lean over Jane’s shoulder to blow out the candles on her mini personal carrot cake. “No,” I reply, “you’re only 88.” It would be her last cake, her final sweet treat. She lost her battle shortly after this moment and this memory together would be our last. Becoming my Grandma’s own memory collector left an impact on my soul. Who will string my memories together for me? Are we all just keepers of each other’s stories?
“You’re not doing it right, Sheila doesn’t call the numbers like this. She says the letters first and then repeats them.”
The scratchy cardigan sleeve brushes my forearm. I am calling Bingo for the first time at the local senior living facility and apparently, I am not doing it right. The woman is decidedly not having it. I am left feeling as if I have offended her when something on her left wrist catches my attention; the clattering sound of bangles. I recognize the sound and the slightly lost look in her eye. Politely, I let her know that I appreciate her help and will call the numbers the way she prefers. I compliment her patterned cardigan and she gives me a toothy, lipstick grin. Reality brings me back, reminding me that not every day is a guarantee and the ability to remember simple routines deserves praise; that I learned from Grandma Jane.