My maternal grandmother, Nanay (as we would call her), was a 92-year-old, fun loving grandmother who was better than anyone could have wished for. She used to be healthy and physically fit – she could run up and down the stairs like us, only a bit slower. It was also a constant worry that one day she would slip and hurt herself. A couple of years ago, she accidentally bumped her head and she was immediately rushed to the hospital.
The CT scan results showed that her brain was already only the size of her fist. She was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. On the way home from the check up, Nanay had unleashed so much anger towards the doctor. She said she was upset that the doctor registered her as a 90-year-old female, when she claimed she was only 40. We just all laughed it off.
Since then, her train of thought declined and was literally like that of a goldfish. She’d ask us if we had lunch a gazillion times in a minute. She would look away and when she looked back at you, whatever conversation you just had with her would start all over again. But despite all this, we loved her even more. We spoke more often and laughed more often. Every day with her was a day of unending surprises.
Two years after her diagnosis with Alzheimer’s, her ability to remember had receded far worse than any of us had expected. She hid things like a kid, not remembering where she had placed them. We found IDs, money and a whole lot of other important stuff bundled with cloth, newspaper, magazines and everything else tucked away under the bed, or anywhere you can possibly imagine. She forgot how to open zippers, sip from a straw or even drink. Sometimes, it was too heartbreaking to even watch her eat – at times she would eat like a 2-year-old, throwing food everywhere.
The most difficult part of it all – she started to forget her children, her husband, her family – the people who loved her – and herself. It hurt that your loved one was sleeping next to you, but didn’t know you. You laugh together but she hardly knows your name, or that you’re her granddaughter. I would look her in the eye and ask her if she knew me, but all I could see behind her smile was a cloud of confusion.
We all predicted she’d live up to 100. I guess our chances at being fortune tellers went down the drain in just one night. Nanay had moments where she would think she was a teenager, all shy and giggly. During those times, she would get shy at using her potty (especially in the presence of someone). It seemed to be a big deal that she just couldn’t go. One night, because she really had to go, she slipped – in an effort to cover herself up. She fell really hard and broke parts of her hips. She was bed ridden since then.
I was pretty excited for the summer vacation because I had the chance to stay at her place and take care of her. She was a painful sight. Every time we had to move her, she would cry out,calling for her mother. We all were silently crying in our hearts. Even feeding her was a task – it took me about an hour to finish half a cup of food.
And the worst part of the ordeal – bedsores. Even if her broken hip bones were healing, her bedsores were the total opposite.
One day, my older sister sat me down to tell me a story about an elderly man who also had a hip fracture and died 3 months later. She told me Nanay might not last long. I strongly opposed this idea. I guess it was selfishness on my part. She was showing signs of recovery – she’d be back on her feet in no time.
Six days after my birthday, at 3:30am, Nanay was gone. I don’t know how I got down the stairs to Nanay’s side. Two years later, I still feel like I’m floating. Am I happy her suffering has ended? I don’t know. Am I sad there won’t be any, “Did you eat yet?” for the bijillionth time? I don’t know. I only know this: Alzheimer’s was a gift that made us stronger. A constant reminder to tell the people in our lives how much we love them. Although I lost one of the greatest loves of my life, I would not have chosen things any other way.