This past weekend, I traveled with my family to New Orleans to visit some of my extended family. And it was great, it was great seeing family and being in New Orleans (even though I got stuck at my grandparent's house most of the time). But it was also hard. Like really fucking hard (pardon my french). About seven years ago my grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and for a while it wasn't all that noticeable... until the last couple of years. And now every time I visit, he becomes worse and worse.
When we first arrived last week, he seemed really happy to see us and that made me happy. We were off to a good start! He's at the point now, though, that he forgets we're even there after a while. So if we happen to leave the room and come back in, it's a shock for him to see us but you can tell he tries to hide it. And that's ok. He spends most of his day sitting in front of the tv or wandering around the house with his walker. He can't really go out much anymore because his legs are too weak. He's not much of a talker nowadays either, he doesn't really recall enough to be able to have conversations which kind of stinks but that's ok too. I've gotten used to these things and as much as they all really suck, he's still alive and he's still doing.... ok. But this time, during this visit, something happened that really shook me up, something that I will never be able to get used to.
Our first day to New Orleans, we had gone over to my grandparent's house to spend the day with them. During the middle of our visit, my Grandpa had wandered into the dining room and had sat down at the dining room table all by himself. It seemed kind of odd to me and I didn't really want to leave him alone so I walked in and sat down across from him. He was shuffling through some pictures that were sitting on the table when he noticed me and looked up with this expression on his face, as if he wanted to say something but couldn't get it out. I smiled and turned my head, his gaze still on me, so I could check on Eliza who was playing in the next room. And then, when I turned back to him, he said hesitantly, "I have a brain that doesn't work", his eyes searching my face for something, compassion or an answer? What do you even say to that? I replied "That must be hard", smiling a little to maybe ease his comfort and try to keep myself from getting emotional. And then, in his shaky old man voice that I've heard my whole life, he slowly asked "Who are you?". He had forgotten who I was. I told him my name was Sam. I was named after him. He said, "Isn't that a boys name?" And then he continued to ask who's child I was and when I responded, he couldn't even remember who my parents were either. He looked as if he was trying so hard, with his eyebrows all furrowed and his eyes opened wide with sadness and desperation, yet his mind was just completely failing him. He started weeping right across the table from me and all I could do was sit there. And watch him. And hold myself together while he crumbled right in front of me.
I can't even describe the torment I felt in that moment. Luckily Eliza came running in wanting to play with him and distracted him while I escaped to a different room and just completely lost it. This is someone I've known my whole life and now he doesn't remember who I am? I was devastated. Here he was, my Grandpa, just deteriorating right in front of me. But what do you do? Half of the time he's just blankly gazing around like a baby because he doesn't know what's going on anymore. He doesn't even remember who Eliza is majority of the time is, he usually just calls her "the baby". But it wasn't until that brief moment that he forgot who I was that it really, really hit me. And slowly, he will forget everyone in his life. I can't even imagine what that must be like. But of course, 30 minutes later he was scooting around, winking at me like none of that had even happened....
I don't even know where I was going with this but I just had to get it out. My heart hurts so much right now guys. This trip was really hard for me. I'ts hard to see my once brilliant grandpa, the only one I have left, shuffle around with a walker, have to wear adult diapers, have a guardian constantly keeping an eye on him, and not even be able to carry a conversation. It's like Benjamin Button except he's still a grown man. And it's only going to get harder every time I see him. I think the worst part, is that there's nothing I can do. I just have to watch him slowly slip away from me. His body is still here and still (mostly) functioning, but my Grandpa, the person I was named after, is just.... drifting away.
But I suppose that's life, right? It just sucks. It really. Really. Sucks.