The Disease of the Mind

Grandma Betty looks towards my father as we sit visiting for the first time in six years- all of us together. It had been nearly three years since I had last gone to see her.

It has been nearly six years since my grandfather was taken from us due to Cancer. Part of me always thought Cancer was the worst disease. It isn’t.

The first couple of years after my grandfather’s passing, my grandmother, who was still recovering from heart surgery, fell deeper into Alzheimer’s Disease.

Alzheimer’s is a disease that is far more cruel than any other. It takes away your ability to do much of anything. My brother and his family visited with my grandmother today. It was much harder than I expected. I have two living grandparents left – both separated by nearly a decade and in their abilities. My mother’s mother is living and at 94 she is still mowing her own yard, maintaining a garden and a beautiful gigantic house. My father’s mother is much more frail – with Alzheimer’s she has forgotten most of her life, has given up eating most food, and can barely walk without assistance.

My father and his siblings have dedicated most of the last 6 years to helping their mother survive. She isn’t allowed to cook, she can’t even clean her own house. This disease has taken away most of her life. She sits in a mostly dark house and attempts to do crossword puzzles for her only sense of purpose.

She becomes very nervous when there are people around. As we sat there some memories snuck through without her even knowing. For example, even though she hardly eats anything, she was still concerned with everyone not having food to eat.

When she was still healthy and very early in her disease, she would still cook for all of us. My brother and I would spend the night and often times even the entire weekend. We would spend most of our days directly in front of the televisions – split into two different rooms. I would sit in the main living room watching soaps with grandmas. Marc, on the other hand sat with grandpa watching whatever sports were on depending on the season. But one thing stayed the same. We always ate the same things for every meal. Breakfast was always eggs, toast, bacon, and sometimes hash browns. For lunch and dinner we ate Cheeseburger and French Fries. Right before bed time we sat in the front living room and ate/drank our Root Beer Floats.

Don’t forget that we always had cottage cheese with lunch and dinner. Marc always ate fruit or applesauce directly on the cottage cheese. I was never ok with mixing it with fruit.

You couldn’t help but feel the emptiness of the house. No longer warmed by my grandfather’s laughter – this emptiness resonated with our grandmother’s disease. She often brought up her husband but never called him by his name. The last few times I visited she had almost dejavú and would go through the details of his passing. This was one of the reasons I couldn’t help but stop visiting. It was almost painful to hear every time.

Grandma had gotten up to walk around and stretch. My nephew, curiously followed her into the kitchen. She began pulling old photographs out to show us some of them.

I don’t remember the details but one photo was of Shirley Temple. She had told us a story about how she was good friends with her and just recently learned of her passing. It was signed to Betty with love, from Shirley Temple. My only guess was that she had received a fan photo. But, grandma continued by saying that she had taught Shirley Temple to walk and then swim. As a side note, Shirley Temple passed away in 2014.

My father explained that it was the Disease, that she had combined memories of her youth (she was her sister’s caretaker, her sister Margie was crippled) and memories of her daughter, who is deceased. Shirley Temple and her daughter looked quite similar in their youth.

Another moment of her piecing together her own understanding of the world around her, was the instances where her husband still receives mail in his name although he has been gone for six years. “Everyone in town thinks my husband is alive,” grandma said. With looks of confusion we turned to our father and asked him what she was talking about. My grandmother, who sends my aunt to do her shopping, still uses our grandfather’s Kroger Plus card. In turn, Kroger and other companies send him mail.

None of these memories represent true life experiences, but my grandmother, as a way to cope with the loneliness and darkness of this disease has found some comfort in creating these pieces in her mind. As her mind and now body separates from this world, we, patiently wait and watch.

There isn’t much more that we can do. The world is very different from what she would even recognize. So, she sits in the darkness of her home, with only her own thoughts. She has a few visitors everyday, and my father is with her when he is not at work. Time has become her biggest enemy.

She is not tarnished by the current situations in America. She isn’t subjected to the filth of TV or the news for that matter. I assume she wouldn’t even know the year and probably wouldn’t want to know the truth on how long it has been since her husband had passed away.

Honestly, I think Alzheimer’s disease would be one of the worst punishments a person can receive. Forgetting every moment of your life. Losing memories and the ability to recognize the people starting at you. Watching their faces and not understanding why they are sad or even happy.

I was blessed to have fond memories of all of my grandparents. I was lucky enough to have eight grandparents who dedicated much of the passed 35 years to being part of my life.

To those who have family members who suffer from this horrible disease. Know that my thoughts and prayers are with you.

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