I wrote this piece nine years ago. I have never forgotten it, never published it before. In the intervening years my perspective on my gramma, her life, and her Alzheimer’s, has softened even more. I don’t list here all the fun times we had in the nursing home, on our walks and drives, or afterward. I think maybe the emphasis here, at the beginning of the essay, is perhaps a little too much on the sorrowful side. Once I got through that nursing home door, facing down my fear of painful emotion yet one more time, I enjoyed some of the most profoundly loving and playful times of my life.
But I won’t change the essay, just let you see it as it sat with me back then. And I will sit with it again, myself, steep in all that love that really had less to do with family, at which we had not been very successful, as with human being. In the verb sense. The best kind of love of all.
Gramma fell in February. For ten years she'd been living in a nursing home, in good health, but Alzheimer's had changed her. It had been ages since we could sit and talk in the accustomed way—what have you been doing, this is what I've done. She couldn't remember the beginning of the sentence by the time we reached the end. And after awhile, she didn't care.
Not that she had given up hope—she'd given up worry. She made a policy of being polite to everyone in case they were a friend, and gave up old grudges for good. The daughter she had had the most anger toward, she simply forgot. She became in some ways the Gramma I'd always wanted. Someone who was delighted to see me. Someone who knew how to play. I learned how to converse without referring to any other person or any other time—she wouldn’t remember them. I learned to kiss her and hug her, things we never used to do, to sing old songs with her, to call her puppy-face, to do silly things to get her to laugh.
Image: Marie, by Casey June Wolf.