Alzheimer’s is a confusing disease, not just to the person who has it, but also to all who are affected by it. One minute they’re there, the next they’re not. When my grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s I was 10, and no one told me about it or bothered to explain what was going on. I suppose they thought I was too young to wrap my brain around this word that I could barely pronounce, let alone spell.
This is why when my Grandpa called me by my sister’s name I immediately and willingly went along with the joke. Assuming her identity, I nodded my head and confirmed I was, in fact, her. There was a satisfaction in his eyes that didn’t match the game. My mom pulled me aside and told me not to pretend with him anymore.
As I got to know Alzheimer’s and the affects on my Grandpa, I wondered why it couldn’t take away all of the memories of now, long over war and replace them with my name and me. Alzheimer’s is a greedy disease.
I imagine he keeps a box for every person he infects; he takes their memories and their independence and locks it up for good. Where do the boxes go? They’re sealed up and thrown out, but every once in awhile one spills over and provides a moment of unreserved clarity. But just like that the box must be resealed.
It’s painful to see a shell of a person and wonder what they could have been. I often sit in silence and wonder what kind of man my Grandpa would be today, and how I would have turned out differently under his influence. Alzheimer’s robbed me of that, contaminating my Grandpas mind, my relationship with him, and our understanding of each other.
What Alzheimer’s couldn’t do was steal joy. It couldn’t steal the joy that flooded me when a box tipped over and one of us was around to listen to the words flow from his mouth.
It couldn’t stop the music that lived in my Grandpas heart. Harmonica, guitar, piano, accordion, the melody was there. My grandpa had a pair of binoculars sitting on his bedside table. If you handed them to him he would bring them to his eyes, despite always having trouble seeing. However, after a gentle reminder from my mom, his face would gain a knowing look as he brought them down from his eyes and pressed them to his lips to play a soulful harmonica tune.
As I look back, there were a few things Alzheimer’s couldn’t accomplish. It couldn’t take away who my Grandpa was and the profound effects he had on his friends, family, and students before the Alzheimer’s decided to inhabit him.
When my Grandpa passed away in October, I knew that the battle was won. The boxes broke open and his soul poured out. Alzheimer’s takes hold only in human form; and such an insatiable and unforgiving disease cannot dwell on a freed soul of a powerful man.