Fading Memories “¡Oye, ven!” Knock, knock, knock. “¡Me tienen prisionera!” bang bang bang “¡Ábreme por favor!” thud “¡Espera, sáquenme de aquí!” (“Hey you, I’m being held hostage, open the door, let me out of here!” “Wait! Get me out of here! )
I open my eyes to find myself lying in the unfamiliar bedroom of my aunt’s house. Without an alarm, I know I am the last to wake up, but it does not bother me. Juarez, Mexico is four hours away from our little town of Eunice, New Mexico, and I had not seen my aunt in a few months so staying up until three in the morning to have a nice conversation with her was undoubtedly worth it.
It is noon and the sun is already shining brightly in the room. Still half asleep and unable to adjust to the light, I turn my back towards the window and smell the aroma of coffee coming from the kitchen. Suddenly, it hits me that something caused me to awaken; something other than the sun penetrating through the curtains refusing to let me get more sleep: a distant sound, but terrifying. I lay there a little longer waiting for the sound, but nothing.
I roll out of bed, brush my teeth and comb my tousled hair. I head to the kitchen to say good morning to everyone when I hear it again. There, standing in front of the iron door of the living room, is my grandmother. She’s yelling desperately at the people strolling by, yelling at the top of her lungs as she knocks and scratches at the door anxiously as if she were in danger. “¡Hay tu, ven!” knock knock. “¡Abre la puerta por favor!” “¡No me dejan salir!”
(“Hey you, come here, please open the door.” “They won’t let me out!”)
Her skin hangs loosely on her malnourished body, while the sun shining through the door hits my grandmother like a spotlight in a room of darkness, pointing her out specifically to me. I
watch her as she yells out to no one. A feeling of emptiness fills inside me. My throat tightens up and it is hard to swallow my sadness. My eyes sting and tears gather in the corner of my eyes. I don’t want them to show, so I fight to hold them in. Disturbed and in disbelief, I walk away from her unnoticed.
In her mind, my grandmother believes she is a prisoner and that those taking care of her have her hostage. My aunt, who has taken the task of accepting my grandmother into her home, is no longer disturbed by this act and seems to view the whole situation more as a daily routine. Even the people strolling by outside the house are familiar with my grandmother’s behavior. I, on the other hand, have never seen my grandmother do this. I have never seen her act so hostile or insane. “Insane,” wow, I never saw myself describing my grandmother in that fashion.
* * *
It is Friday, August 31, 2007, Labor Day weekend, and despite the homework that I already have, I am extremely excited to see my family again. It has only been a couple of weeks since I left home to start my sophomore year of college at the University of New Mexico, but I feel particularly homesick so it is easy for me to miss my ten o’clock organic chemistry class only to get on the road quicker. The 340 mile trip home seems almost endless as I pass the usual towns, first Moriarity, followed by Clines Corners, Vaughn, Roswell, Artesia, and finally Eunice.
I have made this trip so many times that every curve, every turn, and every exit comes naturally to me. I sit here in my car maneuvering the steering wheel, as the road comes to me and I just cruise on it. I am just singing along to one of my favorite songs on the stereo caring about
nothing but being with the ones I love. I have become familiar with all the back roads so I have managed to improve my time from 5 ½ hours to less than 4 ½, something that I have failed to share with my family to save them some concern in regards to my inability to follow the speed limit.
Last night I called home and my mom informed me we would be traveling to Mexico on Saturday. I was excited to here her say this because going to Mexico meant we would be stopping in El Paso, Texas to shop. But more importantly, going to Mexico meant that we would be visiting my maternal grandma who I had not seen since June 4,2007.
As I leave the mountain views of Albuquerque and travel the straight road from Vaughn to Roswell, NM, watching the endless fields of nothingness around me, I take a moment to remember that day. It was another one of those weekends that we had chosen to travel to Mexico. This time though, we traveled to Mexico for a cousin’s wedding. I remember June 4th being a sad day for me as I said goodbye to everyone before taking off to Albuquerque. I had already missed my first day of summer school, but the three weeks of my summer vacation that I was able to spend with my family had flown by so missing one day of class was worth getting to see my family for just a little longer. I am so caught up in my reminiscence of June 4th that I hardly pay attention to the dry grass fields around me that only occasionally expose cattle, but for the most part contain nothing more than dry sage bushes.
My grandma seemed to be doing well at the time, as far as being well goes for an Alzheimer’s patient. It had been 10 years since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s by a well-known doctor in Mexico and during that visit on June 4th everything seemed pretty much the same. There were no signs showing that the illness had advanced, or maybe I was not paying attention to the signs. Maybe that is why this Labor Day weekend visit was different from the
rest. I had not seen anything unusual in a long time so seeing my grandmother yell and bang on the door the way she did really affected me. I imagined myself on Labor Day weekend relaxing with my family. Watching my grandmother served as an eye-opener to my own feelings and fears that I had attempted to keep hidden.
* * *
It is now about seven in the evening. Though the morning’s events remain fresh in my mind, I pretend to be undisturbed. I am sitting in my aunt’s living room, my eyes on the woman sitting in front of me. I find myself observing her every move, her facial expressions, and her response to everything around her. Sometimes I notice a look of confusion, other times, I catch a glimpse of much concern, but more than anything, I see fear. She sits there nervously hugging herself and I wonder if she feels comfort being held even by her own arms. I catch myself staring and turn away only to find myself doing it all over again.
I am curious to know what is going through her head, if anything, and I wonder what it would be like to be in her position. All my life I have strived to always be on top, to succeed in everything I do, and to reach and surpass every expectation. Imagining myself in such a situation seems almost impossible because I view myself as invincible, but every day I’m more and more convinced that no one is.
My grandmother is a small woman, about 5’2”, and due to the slow deterioration from Alzheimer’s, she is around 95 pounds. I notice the lines in her complexion that through the years have become more obvious. Her white hair falls short and uncombed on her head. By keeping her hair short, my aunt avoids the everyday struggle of combing my grandmother’s hair
Looking at my grandmother, she seems fragile and helpless. Anyone who did not get a chance to know my grandmother before Alzheimer’s altered her life would find it difficult to imagine that she used to be the strong person that my mom describes. My grandmother and grandfather divorced before I was born and my mom tells me that she was strong and independent through it all. She was able to move forward and successfully provide for her family. Ever since I can remember, well until the disease overcame her strength, my grandmother has always worked hard and never had to depend on others for anything. Another characteristic of my grandmother’s is that she always made sure to look nice. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s took this sense of care from her and all that is left is her inability to worry about her appearance among other things. Seeing my grandmother now is like watching a colorful flower blooming gracefully as it is watered, except now that water is gone, and the flower has began to wilt.
As I attempt to keep my wandering eyes away from my grandma, my eyes fall on my mother who is seated at the dining room table catching up on gossip with my aunt as I too had done the night before. I sit there for a minute and stare at my mom. My mom is in her late forties and has managed to maintain her youth. I admire her insignificant beauty, from her dark brown hair flowing barely past her shoulders, to her smooth complexion that hardly shows any trace of aging. My mom has never worn any facial makeup except for mascara and eyeliner, yet I think she looks no older than early forties or late thirties. Of course her inability to take compliments well would never allow her to agree with my comments.
She sees me looking at her and smiles, only to continue her conversation with my aunt. I begin to wonder what is going through my mom’s head in regards to my grandmother. Does she
notice this change as I have? Does she feel scared? Does she feel sad, as she talks and laughs with my aunt? Does she feel comfortable being here, when her mother is not who she used to be?
Unlike me, my mother has dealt with my grandmother’s situation more closely and has been more affected; my grandmother is her mother, after all. But knowing my mom, she would never dare to show her sadness in front of her family in fear of revealing signs of weakness. Like her, I try to avoid demonstrating weakness or fear. I think I have only seen my mom cry on two different occasions, but neither related to this particular situation. We were brought up to believe that such display of emotion must be kept inside to protect one’s own dignity and respect.
My mother and I are very close, so much in fact that we are more like best friends than mother and daughter. I always turn to her for advice and I share all my feelings and concerns with her. Occupied with18 hours of chemistry, biology, and seminar classes assigned through the BA/MD, along with other classes, and the almost 30 hours of work a week, I am not able to talk to my mom every day like I want to. It’s extremely difficult for me, especially considering the relationship that I had with her when I was home.
It never failed that when I spent a long night of dancing in Odessa, Texas, coming home at three in the morning, my mom would lose sleep. As soon as I closed the door quietly behind me, I could hear her voice coming from her bedroom, “¿Lizet, que bueno que llegaste bien mija, cómo te fue?” “¿Te la pasaste bien?” “¿Y bailaste mucho?” (Lizet, I’m glad you got home alright honey, how was it? Did you have fun? And did you dance a lot?) Though I knew she was waiting for me to get home, I would always attempt to make as little noise as possible.
Even if it was three in the morning, I would take my place at my mom’s right side with my dad deeply sleeping on the other, and there, in the dark we would talk for at least an hour about how my night went, who I danced with and usually, what my cousin wore since I usually went with her to the dances in Odessa. It would be about four or four-thirty in the morning when we would finally fall asleep, but talking to her at night provided more comfort than sleep could offer.
Another memory that comes to mind is that of my first relationship. It is Mexican tradition to wait until the age of 15 to have a boyfriend. I was almost seventeen when I had my first boyfriend, so considering the type of relationship that we share; it was no surprise to have her anxiously asking me how my first kiss went. For the first couple weeks of my relationship she would ask me every day if it had happened yet.
“So did he kiss you yet?”
“Well hurry up.” She would say.
The day it finally did, I think she was more excited than I was.
Being the oldest of three girls, I have a closer relationship with my mom than any of my sisters. Edith, who is about to be 17 this month, has always been very reserved and usually doesn’t share much with neither me nor my mom. Chantal, who just turned 10 is a daddy’s girl, and still too young to develop a close relationship with my mom.
Despite a close relationship that I share with my mom, for reasons unknown, I have never been able to confront her about my grandmother’s illness. Though it comes up often in conversations, we never go in depth on our feelings towards it. I guess that it’s my own feeling
of helplessness that keeps me from talking to her about it. What good would it do me to ask her, and possibly make her cry when we both know that the illness is something beyond our control?
Like me, my mom is the oldest daughter. For the longest time, my grandmother was able to remember and recognize her. Now the disease has advanced even more. My mom gets nothing but blank stares from my grandmother, much like everyone else. She never once revealed a look of sadness or even cried, I know not being recognized by her mother is a huge disappointment for my mom. I’m sure that situation must be hard for her to deal with and I admire her strength, but at the same time I can’t help but wonder if my mom would feel better if she shared her feeling and thoughts with someone else. I just, sigh and think, I can’t be that person right now.
* * *
It is about 8:30 in the evening, and my mom and dad are talking about furniture stores with my aunt and uncle. The plan for tomorrow is to go shopping for a wooden door. We’ve been remodeling our home for a few months and a hand-made door would add an “elegant touch” according to my parents, who are always doing construction around the house. I see Chantal, my little sister, running around playing with my younger cousins. I turn to my other sister, Edith, and it is no surprise to find her on the phone talking to her boyfriend. As I look around the room, I find myself in a way left out, so I do the inevitable.
I gradually lift myself up off the couch and approach the woman who’s had my attention all along. She sit’s on the couch directly in front of me. Though she is only a few feet away from me, she seems so far away, in a place where I cannot reach her. As I come up to her, I ask her the same questions that I usually do: I ask her how she is doing, and then move on to how her family
is doing. I know this conversation by heart, first I say, “¿Hola abue cómo esta?” (Hey grandma, how are you?) Even though she doesn’t know me, she hugs me as she hears I’m her granddaughter and responds, “Bien pero ya me voy.” (I’m good, but I’m leaving now.) I don’t know why, but she is always in a hurry to go somewhere, but this is the grandmother I am used to, not the hostile person I watched bang on the door this morning.
As she turns her head towards me, I look into her light brown eyes and suddenly find myself longing for the person who used to occupy this woman’s body; the woman whom, as we were being disciplined by our mother, never failed to take our side. I long for the woman who was always thoughtful and never failed to bring my sister and me a gift when she came to visit us in Eunice; the woman who was loved by everyone because of her simplicity and charm. But more than anything, I find myself longing for the person whose eyes used to sparkle with my presence after a few months of not seeing me. These eyes that used to hold so much love and warmth, now stare at me unknowingly. In fact, every response that I receive from this woman is always incomplete. She seems to lose her train of thought in the middle of her sentences. If we stay quiet long enough, she looks away and forgets she was ever even talking to me. Anytime I approach her I have to reintroduce myself.
I walk away from my grandmother slowly to retrieve my spot on the couch in front of her, having gained absolutely nothing but a feeling of emptiness in the pit of my stomach that always follows my encounters with my grandmother. It is not her fault that I feel this way; it is just something beyond either of our control. After a moment of deep thought, I shift my view and I observe my grandmother some more.
Though my grandmother is physically here, for about 6 years now I feel as though she’s been taken away from me, as if somehow replaced by a different person. I know that no matter what I do at this point, my family is left with is this woman who resembles her physically, but lacks the feelings and emotions that made my grandmother so special.
When I begin questioning why these things happen, I cannot help but feel selfish. At least I got to spend over ten years of my life with my grandmother; my little sister on the other hand, will be ten this year. She was born a few months before my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Unlike me, she did not get to experience what my grandmother was like before the illness took over. The only thing that she has ever received from my grandmother is a blank stare. I was fortunate enough to get to know my grandmother and was privileged enough to witness what a strong and lovable person she was.
I was ten when the first signs of the illness became apparent. It started with little signs, almost unnoticed, she would ask a question only to ask it again a few minutes later. One of the first memories that I have is her asking me if I was taller than my mom. My mom and her would be talking and she would stop me and while lightly taping my head with her hand would ask, “¿Ya estas mas alta que tu mama verdad?” Then my mom and her would talk some more and she would see me and ask same question again. I did not know what to think or feel, I just answered and smiled. By the time she was taken to see a doctor, there was no doubt in the family that she had Alzheimer’s, but we needed a doctor to confirm this awful truth.
Little did I know that these small instances of forgetfulness would soon develop into an irreversible illness. It would slowly wipe away my grandmother’s entire recollection of, not only
me, but of everything and everyone around her to the point where even the fundamentals of life would be forgotten.
I was young and naïve at the time of her diagnosis and my knowledge of the disease was almost nonexistent. Now, ten years later and with me about to turn twenty, the damage that the illness has caused my grandmother as well as her loved ones is unexplainable and sadly, irreversible. Once a strong, independent woman, now dependent upon everyone else, my grandmother’s illness requires her to need assistance in eating and bathing as well as using medication to keep her calm.
My grandmother did fight it; she lived alone until she was 64 years old. She refused assistance from anyone and there was a time when no one was able to take her away from her house in Juarez. As the illness progressed, it was evident that my grandmother could no longer be independent. Though my grandmother was diagnosed ten years ago, it was at about the sixth year that the illness completely took over her life.At 64, my grandmother was forced to live with her daughter Letty. Four years later, she remains at my aunt’s house.
* * *
I am now a second year student at UNM and through my classes have been able to expand my knowledge of this illness that has slowly but surely taken my grandmother. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia among elderly people. In the United States alone, over 400,000 cases have been reported, not to mention all the ones that were left unreported. Though advances in technology and knowledge obtained have reached incredible
heights and ways for slowing down the symptoms have been discovered, a cure for Alzheimer’s has not yet been found. The only actual way to confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is after an autopsy is performed on the brain.
Alzheimer’s disease is mainly composed of two major categories. The most common form of Alzheimer’s disease is referred to as sporadic or Late Onset Alzheimer’s Disease (LOAD), meaning the illness develops at the age of 85 or older. The second form and less prevalent type of Alzheimer’s is referred to as familial or Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease (EOAD). This term is given to patients who acquire the disease at the age of sixty or earlier. This type of Alzheimer’s involves what is called an autosomal dominant gene. Automsomal simply means that the disease is not gender-based, but dominant means that the presence of just one gene of such type is needed for the person to have Alzheimer’s.
My grandmother has familial Alzheimer’s or EOAD. Though EOAD is the least common type of Alzheimer’s, accounting for only about 10% of all reported cases, acquiring it puts every offspring of the patient at a 50-50% risk of also developing the illness. This is something that comes up often in my daily thoughts. My mother, who is soon to approach the age of 50, has a 50% risk of also having the illness that has taken over my grandmother and I have no way of stopping it.
To make matters worse, genetically inherited; this illness is more prevalent in women than in men. DAMN! This only adds anguish to my already disturbed conscience. I’m petrified by the thought that one day I will receive the same blank stare from my own mother. I can’t imagine one day having my mom attempting to escape from my house the same way I witnessed my grandmother trying to do so that Labor Day weekend. I don’t want to think about her not
knowing who I am. I want her to remember everything with me, even our late conversations. I want us to share our memories together.
You know those nightmares that seem to haunt you in your sleep and no matter what you do they keep coming back? That’s what Alzheimer’s has become for me; it’s become a constant burden in my life. I not only find myself reminded of it when I look into my grandmother’s eyes, but I can’t help but worry if my mother will develop the disease one day. I pretty much freak out every time my mom goes through a moment of forgetfulness. I know that it is common to forget things occasionally. I have moments of forgetfulness all the time, even in between sentences! But when my mom experiences these moments, it’s as though for a second I am unable to breathe; I feel as though the air molecules have left the room and I cannot get a single breath of air in me.
The most recent moment of forgetfulness that I can recall on my mom’s part occurred during my last visit home for fall break. My family and I traveled to Capitan, NM, to watch my sister Edith’s volleyball game. Upon stopping in Roswell to eat, my mom began looking for some money my dad had withdrawn from the ATM. She began fussing with my dad telling him he had never handed it to her, and she asked him to go to our Durango to look for it.
As my dad left, she found the money in her purse. She had failed to remember that she had put it there herself. I still cannot understand why that worries me so much. I have done that myself so many times. For the most part, my mom has a fairly good memory. She seems to remember everything that I tell her, even when I fail to remember. Nonetheless, I cannot help but feel extremely worried when moments like these happen.
My parents and my two sisters still live in Eunice with no thought of moving any time soon. I am extremely close to my family and my parents are the most important people in the world for me. Everything that I’ve accomplished to this point, everything that I have, the person that I am, I owe it all to them. My parents have always encouraged me to follow my dreams and that succeeding requires hard work and dedication. They not only taught me through words, but more than anything, through their actions. I have watched my mom for years and have always wondered how she finds the time and patience to keep track of all the bills, manage to maintain the house, and also cook and clean for everyone. Not only that, but my mom loves to sew. In Eunice, my mom has the reputation of being a great seamstress, yet she has limited herself to only sewing for her three daughters. I admire my mom for being the strong, talented and amazing woman that she is.
I think the greatest example that hard work and dedication pays off was given to me in 1999 when, at the age of 37, my dad decided to return to school. Having never completed high school or even ever fully learning English, he went to college, obtained his GED and after three years of college, graduated as a Registered Nurse. Watching my dad struggle to understand the language and witnessing the long hours that he spent studying, I think had a significant impact on the person that I am today. I don’t think that he has any idea of how proud I am of him.
At the same time, my mother took on the responsibility of providing our household. My admiration for her has only grown since that time. Though she had to spend long hours working in order for my sisters and I to have the daily necessities, she never once complained and supported my dad through his studies. I only hope to be as strong as her.
Growing up in Eunice, my main priority in life has always been to make my parents proud, and as the oldest sister, set a good example for my siblings who are constantly following my every move. I graduated top of my class at Eunice High School and was a well-rounded student, Vice President of both Student Council and National Honor Society. My freshman year, I was a starter for the Varsity volleyball team. My sophomore year, I was a starter on the varsity basketball team. I was a state qualifier for track from eighth grade until my senior year. Everything that I’ve done up to this point in life has been as a show of my gratitude from the upbringing that I received from my parents.
When I am struggling in school or find that I’m overwhelmed and stressed, all I have to do is remember the twinkle in my parents’ eyes as they proudly reminisce on my previous accomplishments and observe my current progress. That picture in my head is what gives me the strength to get through my long days. But then again, the thought of one day looking into my mom’s eyes and receiving the same blank stare that I get from my grandmother makes me cringe; my heart sinks just thinking about it. What if one day, instead of asking me how I’m doing, she asks me who I am?
My grandmother developed this disease at the age of 59 or 60. This means that if my mom inherited it, I only have a little over a decade left with her fully here with me. I’m in an 8 year medical program right now, I am 5 ½ hours away from home, I’m usually too busy to talk on the phone everyday….what if the only time I have left with her is spent here, in Albuquerque? Agh! Sometimes I just can’t handle thinking about it! I don’t know whether it’s a blessing or a curse, but over the years I’ve gotten really good at keeping my emotions to myself and fighting
my tears is not a problem. But it’s something that’s been building up inside of me for a really long time now. I don’t even know who to turn to for answers.
At the age of ten, I lacked the knowledge and understanding to cope with these awful things that were happening to my grandmother. I had the innocence of a kid. That innocence was like a platinum shield that would deflect any harm or worries that were headed my way. At that age I believed that my life was a fairy tale- that innocence protected me from having the feeling that I find myself with now. Back then I didn’t know that my mom ran a 50% risk of developing Alzheimer’s. I didn’t know that Alzheimer’s slowly eradicates the memory of its victims to such an extreme that they eventually return to the state of toddlers- unable to eat without supervision and having no sensation over one’s bladder. So many times, I’ve wished that I could somehow take back all the knowledge that I’ve acquired about Alzheimer’s throughout the years. I wish there was some way to regain that innocence that protected me from all harm.
I want to be a physician some day, and yes at times I will feel helpless, but will I be able to handle the thought of knowing someone’s illness but not having a cure for it? One thing that I do know for certain is that I am scared. I’m scared to imagine my mother not recognizing me. This thought brings chills in my spine and emptiness in my soul.
* * *
It is now 10 O’clock and I’ve finally received some comfort in this rollercoaster of emotions by understanding that this illness is unique in the sense that its victims are not hurt by it. It slowly deteriorates a person’s memory, but with it leaves the ability to remember pain. As
they continue to catch up on things, my mother and aunt begin to discuss and incident that occurred a while back. My grandmother broke her finger a couple of years ago in a struggle with her youngest daughter to run away in one of her paranoid moments. Of course she felt pain, but only for a moment. By the time my grandmother was rushed to the local doctor, she no longer remembered that she had been through any type of accident. In fact, if it weren’t for the mini cast that she was required to wear for a month, the event leading to her broken finger would have never even been brought up.
I know that if my mom were to develop the disease, I am comforted with knowing that she would rarely be in any type of pain. It would kill me to see her memories slowly destroyed, but I’d rather it be me to suffer than my mom. Why do you want it to be you?
* * *
I am on Thanksgiving break, and nothing makes me happier than to be home again. There is something about being at my house that gives me a feeling a comfort that nothing else can provide. Even my little sister’s heap of papers and crayons lying in the middle of the living room brings comfort.
As usual, I miss my chemistry class in order to come home a day earlier. Well not so early because by the time I get home it is past midnight. It is twelve thirty a.m. on November 20th, my mom’s birthday, and she is not expecting me until tomorrow. As I wake her up and wish her a Happy Birthday with a kiss on the cheek and a dozen yellow roses. With sleep still in her eyes, but a big smile she says, “Ven, acuéstate aquí conmigo” (Come lay here with me). On this
particular night, my daddy is working overnight at the hospital so my mom and I have the bed all to ourselves. I am such a daddy’s and mommy’s girl.
It is now November 23rd, about 4 in the evening and in my most laid back voice I ask my mom if she would have her mother living with her if she could. To this, my mom answers, “Esa fue la decisión más difícil que he tenido que tomar en mi vida. Pero que se puede hacer. Yo querría tenerla aquí conmigo pero sus medicamentos me costarían como trescientos dólares al mes aquí en los Estados Unidos, lo que en México los recibe gratis.”(This was the hardest decisión that I’ve ever had to make. But what can I do? I want to have her here with me but her medications would cost about $300 a month in the United States, the same medications that she receives in Mexico for free.)
More than anything, my mom would love to have her mother at her side, but financial issues are not the only thing that impedes her from bringing my grandmother to Eunice. My grandmother’s passport was lost in one of her visits to Eunice about five years ago. At this point it is almost impossible for my grandmother to receive consent to come to the United States, and I can tell by the distant look on my mom’s face that it pains her greatly that she cannot even bring my grandmother to Eunice, even if it is just for a few weeks.
During this Thanksgiving break, I also build up the courage to talk to my sister about my concerns for the burden of Alzheimer’s in our family. I had to build up the courage because of an incident that she and I had on November 21st, the day of her birthday. Edith is now seventeen and her interest and this point in her life is her boyfriend. She didn’t think twice when it came to spending her birthday with her boyfriend, so I have to admit I was a little jealous. We had a
phone conversation that day and it ended with me throwing it in her face that her family never comes first and that she should have considered spending her birthday with us. After we hung up though, I knew I had blown it. I had no right to tell her what she needed to be doing, especially on her Birthday!!
Nonetheless, I ask Edith what she thought about my grandmother’s illness before I let her know of my own concerns. With sadness and concern in her voice, she says, “Before you mentioned it, it had never really thought about my mom being in danger, like at all. I didn’t know much about it and it never even crossed mind that we could get it.”
She also told me that my words had made her think about her relationship with my mom. She said, “I was really sad after I got off the phone with you, and after reading about your close relationship with mom, it makes me feel stupid. Why I don’t have the same relationship with mom?”
With that thought, Edith tries to change the subject before she gets emotional so she mentions that in a way, she finds our grandmother’s actions sometimes a bit humorous. I hate to admit it, but there have been times when I too find my grandmother’s actions sort of funny. While talking to my sister Edith, I learned about a talk that she and my mom had. She told my mom a story and as a result my mom told her one of her biggest regrets. Talking to Edith gives me an answer that I’ve needed all along.
The story goes a little something like this, of course telling it by memory and in my own words:
A deacon’s son was coming home from a soccer game. The son and his team were on the usual yellow school bus when a drunk driver ran a stop sign and upon collision with the school bus, the drunk driver was killed. The deacon was worried on the effects that witnessing such a catastrophic event had on his son so he asked him, “Son, what do you think about what happened yesterday?” His son simply answered, “You never know what will happen, so from now on, I will never go a day without telling you that I love you.” After Edith shared this story with my mom, my mom told her that not telling her mother everyday that she loved her is one of her biggest regrets. She said, “Aló mejor, si le hubiera dicho mas seguido, todavía se acordaría.” (Perhaps, if I had told her that I loved her, she would still remember.)
That day, my conversation with Edith ended with her promising that she would try to develop a better conversation with not only our mom, but with dad and our little sister as well. I really do hope she sticks to it.
* * *
It is December 2, 2007, about 10 in the evening, and I reflect upon that conversation held with Edith, I realize that it was exactly what I needed for my nightmare to come to an end, or at least to a halt. There are so many illnesses in the world, many of them incurable. Thinking about it, I realize that most of the existing illnesses inflict pain on its victims. As I sit here anxiously waiting for the week and a half to pass before I get to see my family again during the Christmas holiday, I realize that continuously worrying about things that I have no control over is a waste of time. Instead, I can enjoy the wonderful moments that I will continue to share with my family,
but more importantly, make sure that if my mom does begin to forget things, it will take longer to forget that she means the world to me.
Whether or not my mom will develop the illness, and even worrying if I will contract the illness can come later, but right now I will focus on making the best of the time that God grants me with my family.
Maybe there will be a cure or prevention for Alzheimer’s within the next decade. By that time I will have hopefully graduated from medical school. Maybe I can even help in finding a cure. But until then, my clock is running out. I don’t know whether my mom will develop Alzheimer’s or not, and only time will tell. Until that time runs out, I’ve chosen to live my life worrying only when necessary and tackling problems as they come instead of worrying ten years in advance. If that day does come when my mother is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I already have a solution. Like my dad once said, “Alzheimer’s does not kill its patients; it’s their inability to tell their loved ones that something is wrong or hurting that kills them.”
My circumstance with my mother differs in many ways from that of her and her mother. First of all, my mom lives in the United States; therefore I would not have the problem of distance. Something else that I am counting on is my passion for medicine. If God grants me the strength, knowledge and skill to become a physician, I will be able to be at my mom’s side to take care of her and to provide for her illness.
It is present day. “My problem is I analyze life instead of live it,” by Hugh Prather. This quote describes the past nineteen years of my life, but today in front of anyone willing to listen, I am replacing my nightmare with a resolution, I am not going to let Alzheimer’s ruin my life.
From now on I will value the time that God grants me with my mother and cherish the memories that we share. I will only pray that those memories have no time limit such as that of an hourglass running out of sand.