dementia

If I Have Time, Don’t You?

Memories of my grandmother..

Each year, unfailingly, we received a heftily substantial box of homemade cookies and treats around Christmastime.  My sisters and I scavenged ravenously for our favorites, most often your frosted sugar cookies that made a swift departure to our bellies.  Love in cookies.  Love absorbed by our bodies and satiating in your absence.

After Grandpa died you started spending winters with us.  Every morning at the crack of dawn at which you naturally (inhumanly) arose, you set the thermostat heat on high so we were all warm by the time we (humanly) awoke.  

You love the sun. I wonder if you remember us lying in the reclining chairs by the pool or in your backyard at your new condo here in California.  You would bake to a dark tan while I would burn to a bright red.  But that was not important.  Of importance was the time spent with you.  Time.  A commodity rarer than I could ever anticipate.

Christmastime again.  You formed the sugar cookie dough deftly and with secrecy.  None of us to this day know the exact intricacies and ratios of the flour and leavening you combined to create cookie magic.  A cookie magician.  Trees, angels, bells, reindeer.  All frosted in reds and greens and blues and whites.  What simplicity and innocence spiked with a little shortness, but we overlooked the thorns.  

We got you a dog to keep you company.  Elsea had a serious issue with barking that drove you to insanity, but you took one step further the day she ate your dentures.  We have forever joked about this famed event, even commemorating it with a Hallmark card portraying a dog with human teeth.

You started to hear music – Elvis, the Star-spangled Banner – things we could not hear.  At first we chalked it up to eccentricity and a little senility.  We took you to the doctor multiple times.  Mental status exams repeated, one after another.  You could never draw the clock, but you remembered “Obamack” as the President with little difficulty and marked distaste.  

Your driving worsened.  We became physically afraid to be in a car under your direction.  You left the stove on and forget details and events.  You stopped your activities of daily living – bathing, styling your once impeccable permed curls.  We had no choice.

I created the shadowbox hanging next to your room door at Sunrise Assisted Living as artistically and artfully as I could muster. I believed you deserved the best shadowbox on the floor, in the building for that matter.  The deep crimson duvet we bought for your bed paired well with the luscious green carpet running wall to wall.

I moved to Oregon a little while after your move into Sunrise.  My memories stop here.  I have heard stories of your decline from Daddy – hoarding, inattention to care of yourself, a move to another assisted living facility, misconceptions about our lives.  Stories.  I neglected to delve deeper.  

Last Wednesday, the teacher overseeing our memoir independent learning class graced our presence at our weekly meeting with several activities designed to stimulate our creative thought and writing capacities.  The activity I chose involved reading “All My Relations” by Linda Hogan.  I was enamored by her telling of how before and after collective prayer, the constituents gathered to pray would intone “all my relations.”  The repetitiousness of this utterance inspired me to write a short piece about my experience on Baha’i Pilgrimage in Haifa, Israel, using Allah’u’Abha as my refrain.  Our teacher also supplied stationary and cards upon which to write messages to people whom we loved or wished to thank, also conceptually spawned from the Hogan piece.  I had some time left in the hour and decided to write a card to my grandmother.  I have minuscule handwriting and attempted to write as largely as I could so that she could be sure to read it.  I knew enough to keep it simple with a loving update of how we all are in Oregon.  My teacher supplied a stamp, and I texted my father for her address in Los Angeles, letting him know I was sending her a card.  I received a heavier return text than anticipated.  As anticipated, her address was listed, although it was accompanied by a I do not think she will be able to read it, sweetie.

Tears began to flow copiously, and I tried to staunch the flow before my classmates noticed, albeit unsuccessfully.  I lost it.  I was bombarded by feelings of selfishness.  If I have time, does she not?  Can’t time stand still?  Aren’t we still baking in the sun like the cookies in our oven?  I have not seen her in five years, nor have I spoken to her more than a few times.  Life has encapsulated me, and I was ignorant not to ensure her concurrent encapsulation.  Time on this plane is linear.  How can I expect life to continue for me, but to freeze as a crystal in a cube for her?  Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease.  I fear I have missed my window to connect, to say goodbye before the disease speaks the words for me from my lips.  In the card, I promised to write and to visit this fall.  There is a possibility that I may find an empty, unmade bed, hoarded newspapers, and disarray in place of the tanning, baking curmudgeon I have known my entire life.  I pray to God our worlds collide at least once more.  Please do not leave this earthly plane before I have planted a kiss on your cheek, listened to your stories, and present you with my closest interpretation of your Christmas frosted sugar cookies.  Grant me this.  I promise to commit you to memory in memorial of the memories, the skills you loose each month, each week, each day.  If you remember one thing and only one thing, let it be this: You are loved.

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