Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Letter to Remember Me By

Dear Grandpa-

Today is World Alzheimer's Day.
Funny thing, isn't it?
A year an a half ago, this day would not have meant a great deal to me.
But you changed all that.

A year and a half ago on an evening in March, I called to see how you and Grandma were doing. Your only brother had just died and I was worried that you were sad.
When I asked how you were feeling, Grandma responded "Oh, he's holding up very well. He's been taking medication and has a very positive outlook."
Why would you be taking medication because Uncle Vito died.
I was confused.
And then, that's when Grandma said the word.
The worst word I've ever heard.
The word that I've always dreaded, but never believed would be a part of my life.



Those were the only words that I could form.
My ears started ringing.
My apartment started spinning.
My world was collapsing.

And then I dissolved.
I dissolved into a pile of tears and wailing and hysteria.

Alzheimer's is not supposed to happen to people like us:
People who have family reunions every summer while wearing matching t-shirts.
People who go on camping trips and stay up late around the campfire listening to grandparents talk about all the stupid things their children did growing up.
People who eat dinner together every Sunday. No matter what.

I suppose there were a few reasons I got so upset.
The first: I was scared for you.
The second: I was scared for me.

Selfish, I know.
But who would I be if you didn't remember me?
You're the reason I'm here.
If you and Grandma had never had my mother, she could not have had me.
If you and Grandma hadn't come to stay with us for three months every year before Christmastime so my parents could work to support three children and give them the best lives possible.
If you hadn't chopped wood every day for years so that we would have heat if it was cold when we came to visit you.

What would I do if you forgot about all that?

Alzheimer's is an awful disease.
Not simply because it robs it's victims of who they used to be.
Or their families of the people they love.
Alzheimer's hurts because there is no one to blame.
If it were a car accident, we could blame the driver.
If it were alcoholism, we could blame the bottle.
If it were cancer, we could blame the cigarettes, or the radiation, or the sun.
There is no one to blame.
No one.
And that?
That makes all of this so unfair.

But one of the beautiful things about all this, Grandpa, is that you've taught me how to live life.
The little things don't matter so much anymore.
Life is about all the big things.
Like watching your grandchildren play soccer.
Like listening to your children laugh.
Like dancing with your wife under the stars.

And so because of this, my darling Grandfather, I will strive to remember you not as an Alzheimer's patient but as a strong, funny, generous man who loves his family as he loves the air in his lungs.

I will remember sneezes that shake the whole house.
I will remember the BEST oil and vinegar salad in the world.
I will remember the BEST spaghetti sauce in the world.
I will remember that dinner is best when planned right after breakfast.
I will remember that money is worth more in the bank than anywhere else.

The man that jumps out of the shower to chase bats around the house with a bucket.
The man that has no belly-button (no, really. It's true).
The man who always looks good in a fedora.
The man who sang to all his grandchildren when they were babies.
The man who gives the greatest bear hugs.
The man who is a second father to me. And everyone else.

I realize that there is a very real possibility that someday, you may not know my face.
And you know what, Grandpa?
I'm not scared anymore.
I'm still sad.
I know that sadness will always be there.
But the fear?
The fear is gone.

Me and Gramps. Conquering the world together in Colorado, summer 2009

Because even if you can't remember who I am someday
I can never
forget who you are.


3kalb said...

This is why you're beautiful

Anonymous said...

Slowly, slowly it is happening. Just heard that 50% of the over 85 population will be affected. Still can't put my head around it..for either of us. Living long and physically healthy was always a goal, but I forgot about the mind, both of ours. Enjoy NOW and be sustained by the love of our grandkids. Gram