“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” — Revelation 21:4
Alzheimer stole more than my grandmother’s memory.
My Lola’s confusion and forgetfulness began in 2009, not long after I threw her a birthday dinner and introduced her to my then boyfriend (turned husband).
I was on my 5-year world tour as a flight attendant. I loved surprising her with my presence especially on her birthdays. I knew it was a gift more precious to her than whatever I was capable of buying her. So once, twice or so in a year, I come home to see her, cuddle with her like we used to when I was younger, pull a prank on her, laugh together and share stories. If there’s a reason for me to regret that flying stint, it is that I left at the exact time Alzheimer started stealing my Lola away from my family.
I was clueless when it began. Each time I arrive home, I ask her about things we did or shared together, but the space between her thinking and response grew longer and longer each time. I used to think it was just a stage someone goes through normally her age. At first it was words, her things, her eyeglasses etc, but then she started to fold clothes, take them all out, fold them again, and again, all confused, not knowing what she’s looking for, or where she’s actually going.
Until this one day.
Careful not to offend my dear cousins, I whispered to her a question we secretly share: “La, sinong paborito mong apo?” (Who’s your favorite grandchild?, inspired by McDonald’s “Karen” ad). Pretty sure you could guess what has always been her answer. And you probably guessed how she responded that day. She was muddled, struggling to answer my question.
Suddenly, she was a stranger, a woman who looked at me blankly, all the moments we shared together—gone.
Then just like that, Alzheimer not only played with my grandmother‘s memory but also stole everything else we knew of her. Eventually, my Lola, who was fun and good-natured for most of her life suddenly became fearful, depressed, deluded or angry, sometimes even violent.
I wanted to make her feel my presence each visit, I wanted to make her feel loved but I felt so helpless, I didnt know how. It’s difficult having a conversation with someone who doesn’t answer back, and you don’t even know if she can hear or understand you. So for most of the time later on, I didn’t say much of anything. I thought God is a better option for getting my love across to her.
She was at my wedding and at one point in front of our crowd of guests, she has stole me from the moment. I looked at her from the stage to where she was sat, I told myself this is the first of the milestones she will miss from my life. If she was mentally there, I knew she’d be proud (as always) of me for my choice of spouse. Like how she has always been proud of my decisions and choices.
She has always been there with me for more times than my parents’ presence combined. Her presence filled the void of my brokenness.
I used to call her my lucky charm. She was with me all through my successes, from getting a book to cushion my head on my birth (she thought that’s responsible for making me the smart person she believed I am), to listening to my graduation speech as the most excellent student in Kindergarten, to my interview for a scholarship in High School, to my UPCAT exam, down to my “audition” for Emirates Airlines. She’s always dared me to jump into challenging situations. And we’d both be surprise at myself in the end.
I was grieving over those thoughts on my wedding day. She was there watching the flowers, the changing pillow lights, listening to the wedding singer but she wasn’t really there. She was present at my nuptial like a stray soul.
I would trade anything for a flicker of recognition so I can tell her about how I’m happily married today and so she could spend some time and have fun with my one year old son.
Whenever my son spends time with his grandparents, something pinches me inside. Something that makes me smile genuinely and stirs longingness both at the same time. It oddly hurts that it reminds me of how wonderful life is with grandparents. With them around, life is unselfish and reassuring.
For as far as I can remember, I’ve never prayed for money. If there’s one thing Im sure God is proud of me about, it’s contentment. The only time I asked Him to make me really wealthy is during these last few months of my grandmother’s suffering. She became way too fragile and weak from battling Alzheimer and all its complications. I learned to ask God for money so I can hire a professional nurse for my Lola, a big house that can accommodate her comfortably, a garden with lots of flowers- from where she can breathe fresh air and hopefully remember something, a chef that could cook healthy meals that are appropriate for her condition, first-class therapy and expensive medicines that can give hope to my family. I wanted to give her all these, which have been part my daily prayers recently.
But God knew I was crazy. It’s beyond pragmatism. Although none of those has been answered, my aunt Julie and her family who took care of her gave her the best they could give. I can only be thankful.
If Alzheimer is a person, I’d like to shout to him at the top of my lungs, “You are the scum of this life!”. I’ve harbored so much hate and anger on this mental disease. I know my misery pales in comparison to my aunt and her family, who have chosen to take care of her, witnessed her deteriorating everyday right before their very eyes and battling the suffering of my Lola day in day out. It slaps me to a reality that memory has the capability to erase precious moments you’ve built with someone. Losing my grandmother to this disease and the grief that comes along with it is like a 4th quarter basketball. Two minutes left on the board. Your team’s down by 20, and your lungs feel like fire every time you take a breath or see your loved one suffering. The sweat rolling down your head burns your eyes, making it difficult to stay focused on the game. You hope to find some inner strength that will allow you to elevate your game to the next level but the score gap only gets wider each time, you know you’re losing but you don’t want to give up.
Then the buzzer blasts a long blaring tone.
My grandmother took his last breath this Saturday at 3:58 am.
In our culture of display, sadness of death is largely silent. Until now, my heart hasn’t really felt heavy yet. It helped me in this first experience of losing a loved one, facing visitors, strangers, dealing with errands for the funeral and showing light and strength for those who have been stabbed deeper by her passing.
Grief has been linear for our family. In the privacy of my soul, where no one, not even my husband, knows what I think or feel, Alzheimer has been stabbing my heart since the moment my Lola couldn’t utter my name. I’ve been grieving since the moment she has forgotten who I am in her life. It feels like almost forever. Her condition stretched beyond repair and I wrestled within it, trying to find a space to survive away from what my eyes could see each time I visited her.
This is the final blow my enemy, Alzheimer, has prepared me over the years. 4 days of interment and although memories of my Lola keeps insisting, my mind still refuses her request to sit in the deepest of my cerebral. I just couldn’t. I know her memories sit too deep in my heart and mind, I’ll lose all my bearings if I let her. Her submersion within my soul threatens to overwhelm me.
But hey, as what our Pastor pointed out last Sunday, God enables us to see enemies to test our heart.
Losing a loved one is always a time to praise God. Death is a gift. It is a time to reap what we have worked for in our waking days, as a follower of Christ.
I am confident that my grandmother, who taught me at an early age not to pray by memory but to pray by heart, is at the moment unwrapping her reward of eternity.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28
Truly when you think about God in a storm of life, things begin to clear up. While I write the last few words of this blog, I feel my grandmother’s soul sinking in my heart, kissing me goodbye.
What I’ll do miss is the constance of her presence in this world. Waking up without her is like waking up in a world without North Star — she was a fixed point in my night sky.
Memories of her, delightfully cooking my favorite meals, patting my bum to sleep and gently brushing her fingers through my hair start flooding my mind.
and.. that time. she.
I am ready to cry and praise God.