It’s been several days now since my family has gone back home, and left me alone to think back over our whirlwind vacation.
This has been the first time in which I was acutely aware of my grandfather’s deteriorating memory. Of course, the signs have been there for years, maybe I’ve just not allowed myself to reconcile with the idea that my grandfather, who seemed old only in title, was not doing well. Perhaps, it is because this is the first time I’ve spent consecutive days with them in close quarters in years, or maybe my mind just didn’t want to believe what it was seeing, until now.
I knew he had a habit of repeating the same story over and over. I knew that there were times as of late in which he took much longer in coming up with my name. There have been several instances in the past year or so in which I had to remind him I was his granddaughter and not his daughter…what strikes me most, right now, is the genuine fear I could watch flicker over his face. Times in which he noticed that he was forgetting something important, times in which he would struggle to find the word he was trying to use in a sentence, times that he would search my eyes for the answer to the question that he could not find the words to ask. I’ve long ago stopped telling him I had already heard a story that he was trying to tell, watching the puzzled look come over his face as he tried to cover up the mistake one too many times, now I know it’s best to patiently listen, even asking questions about a story I’ve heard retold many times allows him to regain some control over his mind.
My grandfather has an amazing sense of humor. I don’t want to forget that. He is thoughtful and witty. He notices things that other people pass by, he has time for things that other people do not have time for. While we were traveling this past week he was the one who would point out the clouds that looked like dragons, rocks in the melting snow in the shape of hearts…He pointed out how the aspen trees lining the road “looked like a white picket fence” and noted that the tiny crescent moon, rising up over the mountains looked “like a little toboggan sledding down the side of the hill.”
As we sat on the couch one evening, side by side, he petting my dog, me just watching my family, he nudged me. Looking over I could see my mother trying desperately to teach my grandmother how to play a computer game on Facebook. He smiled, “Its like trying to teach a blind carpenter to drive nails over there.” He pointed at them and I couldn’t help but laugh. My grandfather is witty.
For instance, another evening he was picking up an Italian sausage from his plate at dinner, he looked up grinning like a little boy. “Now this is what you call a HOT dog.”
I hate watching this happen to him. I hate that he knows it’s happening to him and that there is nothing that anyone can do to stop it. As an onlooker, I feel like this must be what it feels like to watch someone drown, and know that by the time you swim out to them it would be too late. I feel like right now, Papa is still able to tread water, but before long we will be watching as his head just bobs above the surface now and then, helpless to help him to stay afloat. Eventually, as this disease is known to do, I know that it will swallow my grandfather, and he will sink below the surface of this illness, we may see him pop back up from time to time for a gulp of air, but I know the eventual outcome, and I hate it. I wish I could throw him a life vest, I wish I knew how long he would be able to keep on swimming, I wish this wasn’t happening.
I don’t like this one bit, and I think that drowning must be a really horrible way to go.