I’ve never heard my dad complain. His outer shell is hard, but his inner heart is resilient. When someone – I mean anyone – needs anything, he will always be there to lend a helping hand.
My dad is a physician, and I’ve been blessed and fortunate to witness his generosity to others, even complete strangers.
His purpose in life, as he always tells me, is to give, without asking or wanting anything in return.
I’ve seen him practice this in the way he takes care of his father who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Over the past three years, our family has witnessed my grandpa’s condition get worse, day by day. The strength we have developed everyday at home while watching his mental and physical capacity decline has been tough to say the least.
In three days, we will be moving my grandpa to a nursing home. It has come to the point where my father had to make a tough decision in what would be the absolute best for my grandpa’s care. What made this decision more tough was him being a physician himself.
I believe my dad thought we were armed with enough materials and knowledge to be able to handle this war, but we are just armed in a different way.
Our weapons are pictures and videos of the tangible reminders of how much of an amazing person my grandpa is.
Our shelter is all his sweet words, spoken at random times when we would least expect it.
Our armor is the many memories of us that we hope to never forget, keeping us protected from any terrifying or vicious things he might say during an episode.
The violent outbursts are not easy to witness. There have been many times where my grandpa mumbles or yells in confusion, but the most important thing we try to do is approach him with loving and open arms.
We have to remember the good, hold onto it with a grip, and use these weapons confidently. We remind ourselves that my grandpa feels lost in this world, confused about who he is as an individual. We hold onto things that he cannot seem to hold on to. We show him light that brightens his path to guide him through his difficult journey. We show him that nothing has changed and do not let his illness overshadow who he is.
It pains us to see my grandpa suffer from a condition he has no idea about. He is confused, scared, moody, but then there are those days where he looks and smiles at the confusion.
Remember, how I had had my overwhelming phobia of being forgotten? Ironically, my grandpa has forgotten everyone else besides me, and I can’t describe to you how special that makes me feel.
I remember when he could actually hold a conversation. I feel like what we struggle the most with and were completely unprepared for were the lost memories and my grandpa’s inability to make familial connections. Over the years, we have adjusted to his decreasing mental function and how this disease robs him of his memories and is unforgiving in taking away the basic brain functions needed to perform daily tasks that WE ALL take for granted.
Living with or caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease is very difficult to explain to someone who has not lived through it. As the disease progresses, there is nothing anyone can do but watch their loved ones slip further and further into a world that no longer makes sense to them.
Imagine being dropped off in a foreign country where you didn’t speak the language, the people and surroundings look unfamiliar, and no one told you what you are supposed to be doing in this place, while everyone else around you seems to understand what is going on. It’s terrifying.
I just want to say thank you to my dad because he has always been our protection and our guardian. Not a lot of people give him credit when and where it’s due, but he is the reason for why I have so much respect and appreciation for people. My grandpa’s Alzheimer’s has broken my grandpa’s mind and has broken our hearts, but in the brokenness, my dad taught me that you make new hopes - hopes like making someone feel as loved as possible and noticing the love already around you. My dad taught me that the biggest choice you have left is to create as much love as you can in life, and that is the hope you can hold on to forever.
As for my grandpa, he taught me to stimulate memories through photos and reminisce. It gives us the chance to chronicle people we meet and the experiences we have made and shared. He also taught me that while it’s great to reminisce, it’s just as important to live in the present moment, as this disease also means saying goodbye to the worries, grudges, regrets, and expectations.
I realize that I may not be able to connect with my grandpa via words anymore, but I can connect with him on a different level that brings us both peace. And one day, I will look back on these days and remember just BEING with him in the present moment. I will remember his love even though he can’t remember.
I encourage everyone to spend as much time with their family as possible and to not take little things, people, and life for granted. As humans, we tend to complicate things. It really is so simple to just live in the moment and appreciate the people and things you have now before they become a distant memory.
The mysterious lessons Alzheimer’s can teach us bring us back to the most basic building blocks of humanity. Life is difficult, confusing, and nonsensical, but love is the only thing that makes sense of it all.