Fear of forgetting

By Kendall Tich

As a kid, I remember driving from our home in Libertyville, Illinois all the way to State College, Pennsylvania where my mom’s parents used to live. I don’t remember much about the journeys, but I remember my grandparents’ warm welcomes waiting on the other side.

When I was eight, those fun trips to grandma and grandpa’s house turned into watching my grandfather battle prostate cancer while my grandma began to have lapses in her memory.

I was 10 when my grandpa died and even though I feel like I never truly got to know him, his passing left a lasting affect on my family in the form of the onset of my grandma’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease.

For those of you who know little about the disease, it is often defined as the “progressive mental deterioration that can occur in middle or old age, due to generalized degeneration of the brain.”

In my own experience, I have watched the disease consume my grandma’s memory and livelihood and with a doctor’s prediction, it will shortly end up taking her life.

Much of my relationship with my grandma has been in visits to Pennsylvania with my mom, in which we sit by her bedside, talking to her about things she may or may not know anything about. During these trips, I have learned more from my grandma than she had ever taught me before.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that life is short. I know this seems obvious and is often just said to scare young people into making the right decisions. However, I don’t mean life as just breathing and being on earth. I mean life in the sense that you are truly living, learning and understanding everything around you.

My grandma has become immobile, has lost her ability to perform daily tasks like eating and brushing her teeth and has lost the ability to properly communicate. Whether or not the sounds she makes, make sense in her own mind is still a mystery.

She is still alive: she breathes, sleeps and eats. But her ability to participate in day-to-day activities that we take for granted when we are young has dwindled throughout the progression of her disease.
My grandmother’s slow progression with Alzheimer’s was something that took my family a long time to come to terms with and I still see the determination my mom has to communicate and treat my grandma as though she is still as mentally aware as she was 20 years ago.

What it took me a long time to realize though is that my mom watching my grandmother’s memory deteriorate would be like me watching my own mom’s memory deteriorate. This seems like something I should have figured out a long time ago, but I often overlooked the fact that the relationship my mom has with my grandmother is the same relationship I have with my mom.

Unfortunately, many of the memories that my mom has with her are no longer accessible and are stored somewhere in the back of her mind.

As we grow older, our parents do too and pretty soon we will come home from being away from them for a long time and wonder when they started to look so old. For many of us, this seems like it is a long way’s away. But I know that for my mom, watching her mom grow old and lose her livelihood to Alzheimer’s forced her to grasp the reality of aging.

None of this is intended to gain sympathy or understanding, but rather to show the importance of living a full life while you are able to do so and truly appreciating the relationships you have with your parents while they are still here.

We may not be old yet, but every day we are another day older and it is never too soon to be thankful for the days we are living and the people who are living those days with us.

We are at an age where we think we will be young forever or that even when we grow old, we will remain aware of our memories and the world around us.

My grandma’s Alzheimer’s has taught me not to take seemingly little everyday activities for granted but rather to appreciate and embrace small tasks that we may now consider menial and irrelevant, for one day, we may not be able to perform them at all.