My father had me read “Are You My Mother?” in the New York Times Magazine this evening, a wistful piece about the author’s diminishing Alzheimer’s patient of a mother. The pieceâcentering around the mother’s ability to remember songs long after she had forgotten everything elseâis a near perfect mirror of my grandmother’s recent history.
Unlike Floyd Skloot and his mother, though, my grandmother has been rather pleasant and good-natured through the later phases of her disease, and even as she dwindled she has left behind memories for the rest of us, things I’m going to remember sooner rather than later, for her sake and ours.
For example: Grandma, age 82, playing Scrabble with me in her one-bedroom assisted-living facility, slowly fading in awareness, but still with a dish of M&M’s on the pedestal next to the table, her hand diving in for a quick fix of chocolate every time she walked around the corner, teaching me rather definitively where I got my sweet tooth.
And Grandma, not wanting to stop driving, until she got lost enough in her Alzheimer’s that we could take her keys without her noticing, and we could count with a laugh the 13 separate dents and scratches her skilled driving had accumulated.
And Grandma contentedly eating the sweets we bring her in the home, even when we make a mistake, like the day we brought her a pastry with raisins and Grandma tossed each and every raisin onto the floor as she ate.
And Grandma, still singing songs and playing the piano, even when she doesn’t know what day it is.
And Grandma, eyebrows raising high with recognition, startledly declaring, “He’s my son!” when the words “Donald” or “Marvin” penetrate her consciousness.
And Grandma meeting my now-wife for the first time, a story that still brings a tear to my eye, as it did the day it happened.
Grandma will be 91 this October, at least ten years into her Alzheimer’s, more than five years confined to a wheelchair at a home, several years beyond recognizing her family, a tiny, shriveled version of her once-strong self, and somehow perfectly healthy and, as far as we can tell, rather at peace with herself and the world. I will see her Thursday, and it will be sad, yet it will still make my day, and I will still smile.