My grandma has Alzheimer’s Disease. Some people call this ‘dementia’ like that is somehow better or something. Whatever. We had signs that something was going on with Gramma Joan a long time before anyone really did anything about it… but then denial is pretty powerful. And I especially had a really hard time with this for a while. Seeing the kind of changes that I was seeing in my grandma was something I just did not want to admit were real. I have been thinking about my grandma a lot lately because I really always loved her outlook on life and the way she could make a totally shitty situation seem pretty okay. I miss her a lot and I cannot visit her because I cannot get time off of work to go home and see my family because in Hong Kong they don’t care much about people needing to visit their families; it does not fit their business model.
I have always been really close with my grandparents, I spent all my summers with them in Los Angeles when I was growing up, and because I am so much older than my cousins – it was mostly just me and them every summer for nearly two decades. For this I know I am incredibly lucky. I got to really know my grandma this way. And now when I see her I can still see some of those characteristics, those things that really make Gramma Joan Gramma Joan.
She smiles readily and always shares a laugh.
She still hums her favorite songs and does a little tap-tap-tap with her fingers.
She doesn’t say much anymore, but I can still hear her saying, “Who dat?” and “Amy? Amy? Is that my sweet Ames?”
Joan used to be a total card shark who played poker with all the boys. She knew every song Old Blue Eyes ever even thought of singing. She always loved her some Las Vegas. She sent the sweetest little notes in funny little cards with flowers and kittens on the front of them. In restaurants she ordered eggs for breakfast and caused my Aunt Nancy huge trauma everytime. She loved my grandpa so much and he loved her so much it felt good just to be around them. She made the best hummus and tabouleh I have ever tasted. She loved the Lakers and, oh, that Earvin Johnson – Magic! She had a devious sweet tooth. She loved Johnny Carson and hated “that Old Ronnie Reagan” and “that Nixon.” She read the LA Times religiously and went to mass regularly. She always really loved the San Fernando Valley.
This is how I remember my Grandma.
The odd thing about watching someone with Alzheimer’s is seeing the changes. It is like everything fades away in the exact opposite way that it was added to your mind. The brain unloads in reverse. The essence of my grandma is so rock and roll that it is less sad to see all the other stuff going away because at her core, she is so amazing. But I only can say this since I have accepted that the sadness of her Alzhemier’s is mine and mine alone, she’s carrying on in her own parallel universe, taking everything in, however she manages to take it in. The human brain is so bizarre and amazing. What stays and goes.
Not too long ago I was rewatching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and considering the idea of having specific things wiped from your consciousness. Advantage? Disadvantage? I suppose a little of both, but what to keep and what to discard? I guess the tendency would be to get rid of the yucky stuff… the painful, embarassing, unpleasantness that we amass through our years of muddling through life doing the best we can. Of course that brings up the age old philosophical debate about ignorance being bliss… or not, and all of that. But if you remove that stuff, are you less you? Conventional wisdom says yeah, what doesn’t kill you blah blah blah. My grandma seems to be as much “her” as she ever was, it is just the details that are missing, so I don’t know. Sometimes she knows who I am and sometimes not… but I always know it is her, and somehow that keeps things in the right place.
Clementine and Joel choose to selectively remove the bad parts of their memories… and I can see why they might, but interestingly, they still revert back to their real natures, their inherent preferences for each other, in spite of efforts to ‘reset’ themselves, so maybe it is just like with my grandma; whatever is stripped away cannot really get at the core of your being. This makes me feel better.
I will keep exercising and taking my Omega 3s and joyfully maintaining my caffeine intake in order to keep the illusion of control over my brain alive, but I will rest a little easier to think that my grandma taught (and continues to teach) me a lot about the person I am and if I end up like her, that’ll be pretty okay.