I am blessed to have an extremely tight knit family that extends to my aunts and uncles and to my grandparents. I grew up surrounded by all of them and will never forget the things that each of them has taught me. You don't really realize how much a person has shaped your life until you sit down and think about it.
My grandmother has demensia. So, I've been thinking about memories quite a bit lately.
She's my mom's mom and we call her Maba. It started when I was little. Very little. Maybe a year old? Up until a certain point I think she referred to herself as Grandma, but I could be wrong. She loves teddy bears. She had dozens of them. One day she told me she was the "Mother of the Bears" and asked me to say it. It came out "Maaa Baaa" and it stuck.
I don't remember how the demensia started, but I think it was caused by mini strokes that went unnoticed. (It's all, unfortunately, a blur to me because while my mom was dealing with my grandmother, I was going through a nasty divorce and custody battle.)
All I know for sure is that my mom brought Maba out here to Phoenix in the summer of 2008 and we moved her into an assisted living facility.
When she first moved out here, you could barely tell there was anything wrong with her. If you hadn't known her before, you probably wouldn't know at all.
A few weeks ago, she fell. My mom was concerned that she had suffered another stroke. The doctors just confirmed yesterday that my mom was right. Maba is currently in the hospital and has been there since Tuesday.
We brought her to dinner at mom's house last Sunday and that's when it hit me:
I obviously don't mean physically gone. I don't even mean that she's mentally gone because she's still able to hold a (somewhat) intelligible conversation. She just doesn't have a very long attention span and her short term memory is all but gone, but she'll talk to you about what she can see. She still knows all of us. Sometimes she can't remember names, but she knows how people are related. (She introduced my brother-in-law as "my son-in-law". She knows he "belongs" to Vanessa but she can't remember his name. It's the same with Roy and the kids.)
She's still here, but she's just a shadow of the woman that she once was and it makes my heart ache.
My kids will never know the truly wonderful woman that she once was. It's up to me to tell them and make them understand what great stock they come from.
She came from practically nothing. She was born in the middle of the Great Depression (1932) which turned her into a pack-rat. . . Her garage was a disaster. I'll never forget the day I was "helping" her and my mom clean out it out to get ready for a garage sale. She had cases of soda and cleansers and mouthwash. She stumbled upon an old box of photos and showed me one of her as a very little girl outside of a very run down house. It looked (to my 8 year old eye) like a shack. I said something along the lines of, "Wow, you're house was old!"
I'll never forget her response.
She stood up tall and her eyes flashed proudly. "It was old. And it was small. But it was always clean!" I was so young, but it made an incredible impression on me. To this day, I think about that when I start to become a little envious of my friends and neighbors.
She married young and in her parents' living room. They couldn't afford a large wedding (and I seem to remember something about him being Catholic and her being Protestant, but don't quote me on that). The picture and newspaper article is in her apartment somewhere right now. I stumbled upon it when we were unpacking all her boxes. She was so beautiful. And so in love!
She moved away from her family and Pittsburgh across the state to Philadelphia and worked her tail off to help put my grandfather through medical school. She helped him run his practice and gave him two kids. They worked incredibly hard to raise their children together.
Just when they were to the point where they were close to retirement and enjoying grandchildren, my grandfather was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died right after my first birthday in 1987 making her a widow before the age of 55.
I don't know if I would have emotionally survived all of that.
I have so many fond memories of her. . .
She'd take my sister and I to all of the Disney movies when they came out. We made quite the production out of it. We'd spend the night before at her house. The three of us all slept together in her bed and listened t talk radio until we fell asleep. (I remember feeling so grown up listening to talk radio even though I had no idea what they were talking about.) We would get up in the morning and get ready to go and eat breakfast while we looked at movie showtimes in the newspaper. We'd go out through her garage (grabbing a can of soda from one of the stacks of afore-mentioned cases!) and head to the drugstore where we'd pick out candy and snacks and hide them in her purse. We'd always get to the movie theater a half hour early and sit all the way in the back ("Because," she'd say, "you get the best view when you're eye level with the screen!"). There we'd set up our sugary feast and chat until the movie started. I still sneak candy into the movie theater. And I still sit in the back.
She was the person who got me interested in French when I was about 9 or 10. We always talked about going to France once I learned the language so I could take care of speaking for the both of us. I took four years of French in high school but by the time I was done she was in no shape to travel internationally. I still want to go to France and I will get there someday. All because of her.
One night when I was a little girl I was spending the night at her house. I was lying on the couch with my head on her lap watching TV. She started scratching my back very lightly. So lightly that it tickled and I started giggling and squirming away. She told me it was like a game with myself. She told me to imagine a candle flame in my head and when I thought I was going to laugh just to focus on the candle flame until I didn't want to laugh anymore. It became one of my favorite games because it was mind over matter. I used to have my sister tickle my feet or my back. It got to the point where it relaxed me because I instantly shut my body off and just focused on one thing. That trick became something I'd use over and over again. I still beg Roy to "tickle my back" sometimes because I can't shut my brain off.
She took a bus trip across the country one summer and sent Vanessa and I post cards from a ton of places. At that point, I had never left Pittsburgh (except to go to Florida at Christmas time when I was very little) so a post card from Salt Lake City seemed incredibly exotic.
Every Halloween, a local radio station would broadcast a show with a medium in a haunted house and she'd call me to remind me to listen to it that night when I went to bed.
She'd take us to the Carnegie Science Center all the time and she always watched the History Channel. She gave me a love for word puzzles and brain teasers. She came to all of my school plays and dance recitals.
When I was in second grade my sister had chicken pox over my birthday so I couldn't have a party. But Maba came up for dinner and contracted shingles in the process. I know she'd do it again in a heartbeat just so a little girl could have a birthday party.
She loves teddy bears and knick-knacks and antiques. She had an entire house full of antique tools and household items and could tell you what every single one of them had been used for.
She had no patience for people without common sense (she still doesn't), but she had all the patience in the world for her granddaughters. There was nothing but unconditional love for us from that woman.
From stories that I've heard and things I remember I know that she didn't lead a perfect life. She made mistakes. Big ones. And sometimes people that she loved suffered because of them. But, that's no different than anyone else. She wasn't a saint. But she was one of my favorite people in the world.
She was a perfectionist and a smartass. She was proud and tough on the outside even when she was screaming on the inside. She was methodical in the way she did things. She was incredibly intelligent. She had a knack for language and a love for grammar. I see a lot of her in me everytime I look in the mirror.
I could go on for hours. . .
She's been in the hospital since Tuesday. My mom says she's worse now and she probably will have to go to a memory unit or a nursing home when she leaves the hospital.
I have spent the last 3 days crying about how quickly things can change. Thinking about my own mortality and how I don't have a will. I've worried about what would happen to my kids if something happened to me. I've cried myself to sleep every night thinking about the family back home that I haven't seen in over six years and thinking about the $3000 it's going to take me years to save to get back there.
I'm grateful for work everyday because that's eight and a half hours that I can forget the world outside.
My kids and my husband feel helpless because I just cry at random times. I can't verbalize what I'm feeling, even though and I'm usually able to easily put my feelings into words. It's just a crippling feeling of overwhelming loss and sadness, even though she's still here.
I'm taking this harder than I've ever taken anything before. This has hit so incredibly close to home and completely rocked my world.
I've known for two years now that her mental state was going to deteriorate. I told myself I was prepared.
And it's only going to get worse.
So, what will I do? Exactly what she did over and over again. Stand up tall and tell the universe that it won't break me. I'll enjoy every day.
And I'll remember. Always.