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how much is a memory worth?

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We’ve all been there before. You bump into someone at the supermarket, or around town, and when they offer up a warm hello, you feel a twinge of guilt because you can’t remember how you know them. Or worse, you can’t remember their name.

Or sometimes, when you’re looking for something, like your keys or your glasses, and you look and look, only to find them in your purse, or perched on your head. You laugh to yourself, and think, “I must be losing my mind.”

Now think about this: You’re surrounded by people you don’t know, but who all seem to know you. It’s impossible to find things you need, and even harder to remember where you’re supposed to put them. Time is a limitless concept; days and nights and weeks and months all fade into each other. You’re in a strange place that you recognize vaguely, but you don’t know where you are. You just want to go home.

My grandmother has Alzheimer’s, and this is what life is like for her every day. Times ten.

Let me back up a little. My grandparents have always lived right across the street from me. My dad’s two sisters live beside us, all three families on the same street across from my Maw Maw and Paw Paw, as we all called them. About ten years ago, my grandfather suffered a massive heart attack. It was so sudden, so unexpected. Just out of school for the day, I was across the street, alone, waiting for my parents to come home from work when I saw all the flashing lights and heard the fire trucks. He died instantly. We were all worried about my grandmother, and my dad would go out to stay with her at night. I spent Christmas Eve there that year. But everything seemed to be okay, as good as it could’ve been.

About two years ago, my parents started noticing little things about my grandmother. She would lose her glasses, or insist she’d lost them, and they’d be on the dresser. She’d lost a lot of weight, and she seemed to have trouble remembering little things. At first, we just chalked it up to being old. But it got worse. My dad would find pills on the floor. Upon opening a cabinet, my mother noticed an empty fish stick box next an unopened box of crackers. One afternoon, all the spoons disappeared—we soon realized that she’d thrown them all away. She was losing so much weight because she was forgetting to eat. When she almost started a fire on the gas stove in the kitchen, my dad decided that someone would have to stay with her more often.

Then some things were disappearing from around the house.

One day, I noticed some pictures were missing. They were of my sister. One by one, they came down, off the shelves, and off the wall. Then my pictures were gone. It finally came to the point where the only pictures that remained were very old, not including the three family pictures about the couch from when we’d had church directory pictures taken.

With the pictures went the memories.

I called my grandmother’s house one day to speak to my dad. I asked for him, and when she said he was gone, I asked her to tell him to please call Summer. “Which one are you again?” she asked. It only got worse after her pacemaker was put in and she came home from the hospital.

She’s convinced that my dad has brought her to some house, that he found her somewhere and brought her there. All the mirrors have either been removed or taped over so that she doesn’t feel like “that woman” is watching her. She thinks my Aunt Phyllis is some girl who my dad has paid to sit with her—she doesn’t even recognize her own daughter. The last time I visited her, we’d talk about people and she’d have to ask me who was living and who wasn’t.

I live in Birmingham now, so I don’t get to see my family as much as I like. I rely on my daily reports from my mother and father to see how she’s doing. And it never gets better. I can see the toll it takes on my family, esp my dad. To me, it’s sad, because she’s my old grandmother. But that’s my dad’s mom. She used to take care of him, now he has to take care of her. I hope and pray that my parents never have to ask me who I am. Or who they are, as my grandmother is slowly starting to forget herself.

I can’t imagine how sad and lonely she must be, and how hard it is for any of us to even begin to understand what she’s going through. There are so many moments in my life that I want so badly to forget, but I hope the day never comes when I can’t remember anything, even those things that I don’t want to.

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