Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Moving Episode About Alzheimer’s and a Trip Down Memory Lane Thanks to Stargate Atlantis

Photo by Mark Perez
Back when I was about 10, my Grandfather died. He had been in a nursing home for a while, and I remember running up and down the halls, not wanting to stay in that sterile room, its cold and bland-colored tiles smelling like disinfectant and the urine that the disinfectant was supposed to have cleaned up. I think one reason why I didn’t want to stay in the room was because he didn’t know who I was.

Looking back now, we know that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s and the dementia had started much earlier. I remember when they moved him from his apartment in Dallas, TX, into a limited care home, where he was able to bring a lot of his furniture and it was almost like a new apartment except that it was smaller, and there were nurses who would check on him if he needed them, and there were common eating areas, etc… It was kind of like somewhere between a bachelor pad and a nursing home.

Then, somewhere along the way, in what must have been a relatively short amount of time, I think my mother was informed that he needed more help than they could offer; and that when we went over there I remember Mom saying things like “Dad, you already asked me that,” or “you know who that is, that’s Ernie, my husband.”

Funny, the things you think about just from watching an episode of something on TV. I just happened to download an episode of Stargate Atlantis (one of my favorite shows) because I don’t have cable right now, and in their current season, about two or three episodes back someone suffers from a similar illness. It was heart-wrenching; not your average sci-fi show. It brought me back to Paw Paw and that final place he was brought to: a nursing home where the patients either screamed obscenities or drooled or sat quietly. There was one man who couldn’t have been more than 40; he was handsome but his hair was very grey. He has suffered some kind of condition that left him practically in a vegetative state. There was also a woman whose room I would creep into and try to talk to; she would suddenly start yelling at me, calling me all kinds of names. That only made me go back and sneak in her room again. I delighted in bothering her. I think I did so because I knew that I just didn’t want to be in that room with Paw Paw and Mom and Dad and Esther…as they watched over him.

I was never close with my Grandfather, from what I remember. Not that the man wasn’t kind or loving; I see pictures of me as a baby and little girl sitting on his lap. I remember his apartment, how I loved to go there; it was a place of secret hiding places and cornbread. I called my Grandfather Paw Paw. Paw Paw had a marvelous bedroom; I think what I remember most was his grooming area. He always kept himself looking great (the man was married twice and apparently a ladies man). What I remember the most from his apartment are the makeup kit and brush that he used to brush his moustache with dark dye, his lava lap (which I inherited at my request), and these two glass roosters that sat on top of his TV. I always thought the roosters were going to bite me, even after I got older and knew that they were just glass. I also remember almost drowning in his pool (actually, I was only underwater for a few seconds, but it was enough to make me never take up swimming until I was 13).

His was the first death human death that I experienced in the family – or at all, actually. The only one besides that was the death of Cuchi Frita, our Yorkshire Terrier, who I adored and who was taken from Mom and Dad way too soon.

I wish I had spent more time with him, but I don’t think Mom and Dad wanted me to see him too much…he was a very intelligent man who, I imagine, was outraged that he was unable towards the end to remember things that he once knew…who, in the end, didn’t even know Esther, my grandmother, or my Mom, his daughter.

I have been so sad over the past month, with my breakup and what’s going on with Nina. But I think that losing one’s mind – or watching a loved one go like that - might be the saddest thing that anyone has to go through – a schoolmate has a mother who developed Alzheimer’s in her early 50’s, and I remember when Erica told me I couldn’t come stay at her house anymore because it had just gotten too difficult and they were eventually going to put her in a home. And that was when we were in high school.

Life’s hardships always never cease to amaze you – in the ways that something that seems so difficult and impossible to deal with is something that seems so unimportant when placed next to something else.



Anonymous Jay said...

This was beautiful. Thank you for writing this.

10:02 PM  
Blogger Pand0ra Wilde said...

Alzheimer's is probably one of the hardest diseases for everyone to deal with--the person ill with it, because for awhile they realize what they're losing and it's hard on them, plus the family looking on, not knowing from day to day what kind of person they'll be visiting or dealing with at home.

It was really cool reading this--you write so eloquently that I couldn't match it.

11:01 PM  
Blogger Billychic said...

Pand0ra - you are so sweet, thank you so much. Means a lot. Looking forward to more of your posts on here, boo.


4:22 PM  

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