You know that feeling when you are playing a game and the hourglass is getting close to emptying to the bottom and you start to hurry and maybe get one more correct answer in before your turn is over?
I never really thought about life like that until I had kids. When you are young you think you will live for infinity. Even as you hit your 20s, another 60 years or so probably feels like it will never be a reality. Even when my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s I wasn’t able to internalize it. I didn’t really think about it affecting me, because I was still at the time thinking I was invincible. I just saw what it did to my Mom and how her whole world changed when her Mom wasn’t there, at first mentally, then finally physically.
My relationship with my grandmother was pretty normal. We would visit once a month or so, my brother and I never wanting to go, then by the end of the day after hanging with my cousins they would have to drag us out of there kicking and screaming because we wanted to stay. She was a typically grandmother to us. We would play, then around lunchtime or dinnertime there was always something good cooking in the kitchen. My grandfather would challenge us to eat a hot pepper he was growing in his garden. We would try it cause we were idiot kids and then we would spend a few hours drinking milk and trying not to show the other cousins we were crying like babies.
Then, life changed for my Mom, Aunts and Uncles, and probably lots of the cousins who lived close to my grandmother. I was around high school age when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. All the Aunts and Uncles met and made a schedule to go be with my grandmother once or twice a week and put their lives on hold to care for her. They would take her out and basically try to keep her busy, remind her to eat, and just be there when she forgot who she was. I never understood as a kid how much this must have affected them. Seeing their Mom wasn’t the super human that she was when they were growing up. Walking into their home and their Mom not knowing who they were, I have no idea how they were able to handle something like that.
What I did learn at that time was just how strong my family was. My Aunts and Uncles got thru it, and they even developed new relationships, as best they could, with this new person. They connected with their Mom by being as she put it “that lady who comes here sometimes” or “that cute guy who visits me”. As weird as that might sound, for them, I’m sure it was just getting to be there for a few moments more with their MOM. If they had to spend 24 hours with her and in that time she remembered you for a few fleeting moments I’m sure it meant the world to them.
My grandmother has been gone for a few years now, but each time the family gets together and someone tells a funny story about her or a time she did something during the years she had Alzheimer’s it feels like that shared experience brings us all a little closer. They all went thru it together, even though separately they had to deal with it in their own ways. Not every Alzheimer’s story ends like The Notebook. It is an awful thing to see. There is nothing romantic about it. My family shares their stories so it lessens the pain that they all felt.
What her story has done for me is scare me, to remind me that it all could be over, to push me to be more open to people in my life. I have kids of my own now, and it feels like for me the clock is always ticking. As you get older I think you look at the hourglass more frequently. Praying it has more time, more moments in it, a few more memories we can share together.
Alzheimer’s is that jerk that ruins your game by knocking over the hourglass over before it was time. It stops the clock way before you were ready to stop playing the game. It doesn’t give people the time to scramble for the last few correct answers. It strikes without warning and turns your world upside down.
What it can teach us, or what it is teaching me, is to get the words out while you can. Write down your story; tell the people you love what it is you love about them. It has taking me a long time to learn this. To make sure, that when my clock runs out the people I value know exactly how I felt. I don’t wish for my time to be over, I just don’t want to be watching the clock and miss out on what is here now, what is right in front of me. My grandmother had no idea the lessons she taught me, she never had the luxury of hearing all the things loved ones get to say as you get older in life or closer to the end of this journey. She never got to enjoy the “you were the best MOM in the world speech”.
So, screw it, tell that person today how you feel. Give that person the joy of knowing what they mean to you.