Today was a good day. When your loved one has Alzheimer’s, you don’t know one day to the next what the day will be like. You brace yourself for bumps and revel when it’s smooth sailing. It’s only human to feel sad or disappointed or upset when your loved one with Alzheimer’s slowly forgets what you have done together or attributes the past moments to someone else. It’s difficult to hear things like “your grandfather and I used to do this” or “your grandfather and I used to go here” knowing that those past moments were done with you. Alzheimer’s is a years long grieving process as you bit by bit lose the loved one that you know and have to adjust to a new reality.
I always called my grandmother “my partner in crime”. We did EVERYTHING together. It’s not an overstatement. Since I was a single mom, she jumped into the “dad” role and attended all the sports events and music performances. We day tripped together and even once did a 2 week vacation with just the two of us when my children were old enough to fend for themselves for that long. She was also my confident, my rock, my person to go to when life as a working single mom became overwhelming and I just needed someone to tell me that it was going to be okay. The price that I paid for this closeness was being the first to sound the alarm that something was wrong. However, not being the one to help her make health decisions, it was always blown off and attributed to age. The day that she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s did not come as a surprise.
Even though she is 95 years old and has Alzheimer’s, I still strive to spend as much time as possible with her. Though I’m no longer a single mom, my partner came on board knowing fully well the importance of my relationship with my grandmother. She still comes on trips with us, has dinner with us a couple times a week, and her and I go for walks and have coffee dates just like before. I’ve become a part time caregiver as I’m the one who organizes her closet after her “rearranging” and has the more private discussions such as hygiene. With this, I’m also privy to the many ups and downs that come with the disease. I have to choke back tears when she tells me over and over of all the things that she did with my grandfather when, in fact, it had been with me. Although she still remembers the event, it’d fuzzed and blurred so that I’m erased from the picture. My heart breaks in two as she loses the ability to be that confident who I once had.
However… Let the good moments shine. It’s so easy to become wrapped up in all the down moments. Though you know to attribute those moments to the disease, resulting emotions still exist. You do still need to acknowledge and deal with these feelings, but letting the good moments shine will help you refocus and remain positive. These good moments may not necessarily be the orchestra introducing dramatic flash back to the past memories you see in characters with Alzheimer’s on the big screen. They may give you a strong belly laugh as you’re able to share a past funny moment. They may be small and simple, just giving you a smile and feeling of warmth.
Today, a good moment shone. My grandmother and I sat down to watch a documentary by a historian we both admire. Now, it’s been a few years since we’d last watch a program by her so I gave my grandmother a brief overview of the types of programs that this historian does. Within the first few moments, of the documentary, my grandmother pops out some comments— “Did we use to watch programs by her?”, “I always liked her dresses”, and “It’s been quite a few years since we’ve watch a program like this together.” While the latter may not be entirely true, it has been a while. Usually, we like our Canadian dramas. I didn’t care that I missed part of the show as we talked about the historian’s other documentaries or the fact that this somehow turned into an I’ve-yet-to-figure-out-why discussion on the lewd and somewhat racist nursery rhymes from when she was little. I’m not going to type them here due to content but I’m sure some of them can be found with a quick Google.
Afterwards, as we were relaxing and wrapping presents are her place, we looked at me, smiled, and said “do you know that you’re my best friend? You might not consider me yours but I think you’re mine. I love you and don’t know what I’d do without you.”
I was lucky that these good moments happened right at a time when I needed it. I’ve seen how my grandmother has been spiraling downwards as she’s battled UTI after UTI and have been really feeling the loss of her as a my confident when dealing with life’s stress. I needed this moment today. I needed to feel like things were back to “normal” even if it were only for a few moments. I needed a little light shone onto the hazy path ahead because, with Alzheimer’s, there’s no predictable route.
It’s okay to revel in those good moments. You are not in denial by doing so. You’re purely loving and living in those moments when the “old” loved one shines through at the same time of getting to know and develop a relationship with the “new” loved one as the disease progresses. Write it down. Take a picture. Do anything that will help you hold onto that moment and reflect on it when things are not so good. As the disease progresses, these shining moments may become fewer but focusing on the beauty of those moments will help you transition into this new relationship. Your loved one is still there. Sometimes, it just takes a while for their light to shine through.