Preparing for Loss: How to deal with losing someone who isn’t actually gone

Growing up, we have the unrealistic idea that those closest to us are there forever. We firmly believe that the superheros we call our parents are eternal and nothing bad could ever happen to them. When I was younger, my parents worked long hours with little vacation time, so I spent the majority of my free time at my grandma’s house. I can remember her brick fireplace with the countless family pictures lining the mantle so clearly. I can still see the glass butter holder in the shape of a cow she always kept on the kitchen table. I definitely will never forget running around her living room smuggling as much chocolate as my hands would allow me to carry, while my grandma was out getting the mail. All of these memories are going to be with me forever. Little things throughout my day with spark a thought about growing up in my grandma’s house. As I continue to grow up, I seemed to have not realized that she was going to grow older as well. As the years pass us by, our older relatives age does along with us. While my grandma is still alive, healthy and mobile, her sense of self and others has diminished. This is the story of how I have learned how to deal with slowly losing someone who is not truly gone.

With my grandma’s memory slowly fading away, I thought it would be good to take a trip home. With situations like this, I wish that home was just down the street. I packed my car, spent my last dime to fill the tank, and set out on my four hour journey in the pouring rain to go see the woman who I was not even sure would be able to remember my name. As I walked into her small apartment, completely renovated to ensure that she had no way of hurting herself, I had a million thoughts racing through my mind. I was not sure if she would welcome me with open arms, or ask me to leave because she was not sure who I was. I turned the corner and saw my grandma, sitting in her usual spot on the couch, when a smile began to grow on her face. She looked at me with delight and confusion. Her eyes were happy, but she didn't understand why she was happy to see me. After some reminding and going through old pictures, the name ”Jacks” flew off her tongue. Yes, it was my grandma sitting right in front of me, but she barely knew who I was anymore.              

 

Over the years, my grandma began to forget the little things. Bread at the grocery store, where she parked her car, to turn off a light. Seeing her current state of asking me if this was the first time we met and calling for my mother as if she was her nurse instead of her daughter, it breaks my heart. I know she did not truly forget, that it is just her Alzheimer's that is talking. When she repeats the same question over and over again, I have to bite my tongue and be patient with her. I know she cannot help but ask, and I have to learn to be sympathetic for her condition. It must be terrifying to wake up in a house you do not recognize only to be bombarded by people that you are not fully sure if you know, while you search for your husband who has passed 19 years ago. I know that her condition is only going to get worse, so I am now in charge of holding onto the memories that she cannot grasp right now. Nothing will be lost as long as I have them in mind.

As I was about to leave the house to come back to New York, my grandma took my face in her hands and told me, “I know I love you but I just do not know why. But, does anyone really know why we love in the first place?” Her memories may have faded, but her love will always remain.