11 February 2009

Tug of war: Alzheimer's vs. my memories

As I've grown older, my interest in my grandmother's lives has grown. I'm lucky to have been able to hear a lot of stories from both grandmothers before I lost them over the years.

My maternal grandmother passed away in 2006, having met two of my nephews and attended my brother's wedding.

My paternal grandmother faded slowly over the course of the past decade from Alzheimer's. Today, the disease has left her as helpless as a few month old baby; not aware of her surroundings and immobile.

I'm aware that she technically hasn't left us yet, but to me she has. Her body's still around to touch, kiss and talk to but she isn't.

It's ironic that of my two grandmothers, Alzheimer's took the strongest, most assertive matriarch. She was opinionated, capable, articulate, confident, and demanding of those around her. Even in her last lucid days, she couldn't stand having someone around to help her. To leave someone who took pride in doing everything herself helpless seems especially cruel.

The oldest of five sisters, she got married young, around 14 probably, to a cousin who wasn't much older. With him she moved to a desolate farm area outside Kuwait's walls. Her sisters talk of her year away as being the worst in her life. Soon after giving birth, her husband passed away. Within a few years she was married again to a childless widower in his late 50's probably (my grandfather) who was probably somewhat abusive. My grandfather passed away when the youngest of his seven children was barely a toddler. The second time she was a widowed she was in her late 30's or early 40's with eight children to care for.

She devoted her life to her children, neglecting family, friends, and almost all social obligations. When her children grew older, married, had several children and began moving away, she felt betrayed and voiced her feelings loudly.

Sometimes I wish she can see them now, huddled around her seemingly empty body, talking to her, massaging her hands, feeding her. Not a day goes by without at least two or three of her children coming to see her.

Unlike death, Alzheimer's takes a loved one away slooooooooowly and painfully. First, she was frustrated with her memory, then she was angry at us all the time, then she slowly stopped recognizing us, and now this lifeless yet familiar body has become my grandmother. I'm sorry, she's not. I work hard to remember as she was before she was stolen away by the disease. Remembering stories, talking to my great-Aunt's and my aunts and uncles to make sure that I continue to know her as she was.

As all of us are, my grandmother was a product of her time. Even with all her faults and flaws clear to me now, such as the crazy things she taught me about marriage and social standing, the strict rules she had set for herself and us, the way she chose to live her life as a victim, I still find her to be a remarkable woman.

I'm lucky to have grown up with her as a role model, because she really was a kick-ass woman. I'll admit that whenever my cousins tell me how much I remind them of her, I stand a little taller with pride.

This post has been brought to you by a PostSecret from this week:

To the sender I say, yes I was hurt and felt cheated when my grandmother forgot me; but I'll never forget her and I'll forever be grateful for her involvement in my life.


eshda3wa said...

we have to learn to be thankful for the good years we had

and hold on to them .

Salah said...

So sad... but what can we say? this is life!

Manal said...

thank you for the post

o allah esahel

o yafrejha


Intlxpatr said...

I have a dear friend who did everything right. She stayed thin, she ate the right foods, she kept her mind active, she exercised - everything you are supposed to do. And then she was struck - young - with Alzheimer's.

Sometimes, it is hard to see the justice in the way things happen. No, sometimes it is impossible.

But I love the way you wrote about her life. I learned something, what a life she lived, married to two men who both died on her, leaving her responsible for all those children? Don't you wonder how she did it?

I love this entry, GE&B

Reem said...

it brought tears to my eyes. o having the other post *ellly 3ugba* playing that kuwaiti song to the background helped the tears roll.