Refusing to forget

November 12th, 2015

I found a piece of paper in a box of homeless things from my childhood. My friend and I talked briefly about it, but it’s been dauntingly hanging over my head all week.


It had been an assignment from kindergarten or sooner. The front read “Holy” and the inside said, “I see God…” I thought that was the full of it until I unintentionally turned it over and read where my 6-year-old self saw God.


With an array of colors I wrote, “I see God when I’m scared because my grandpa is seeing people.”


My grandfather passed away in 2005 from a very profound and extensive case of Alzheimer’s Disease; doctors said he’d die five years prior, but his body held strong even if his brain didn’t follow course.


My interest in learning about this disease coincides with a heavy heart. I give it the “cold-shoulder” when it’s discussed in public while allowing it to consume my every thought at times.


It breaks my heart that I may watch my parents or siblings lose their minds someday.


It scares me that my family may have to see me through it.


When I found that piece of paper I was brought back to a time I didn’t even think the young me knew. My grandfather’s first hallucination happened at our old house; he thought he saw a mouse.


The hallucination I am referring to in the “Where I see God” assignment happened shortly after.


My grandfather was in their upstairs bedroom when he heard something hit the window. Then he heard it again, and again. He opened the window and saw children throwing rocks at the house. They were screaming, so he screamed back. When my grandmother ran upstairs to see what was wrong, Grandpa was halfway out the window screaming at air.


After that everything sort of went downhill.


You see, Alzheimer’s is sinister and sneaky. It creeps up on you and all of the sudden, you can’t remember certain streets or what you needed at the grocery store. Then you’re reading the same paper multiple times a day and when someone asks, “Hey, Gramps, how are you?” you respond with, “As far as I know, pretty good,” every single time.


The human brain has billions of neurons, each nerve cell connecting with others to form communication networks. Some of these involve remembering, learning and thinking. When Alzheimer’s begins to set in, hundreds of thousands of these transmitters begin to deteriorate and die out.


Then, in what seems like an instant, you forget names and faces. Old memories are no longer and new memories cannot be formed. Your immune system becomes depleted and it is easy to contract other life-threatening ailments such as pneumonia.


This is terrifying.


Since finding that piece of paper I have kind of been out of it. Usually I’d try to make light of the situation, but I’m really missing my grandpa this week. Although, I have been trying to go back through my own brain and find memories–the healing kind.


I remember sitting on my grandfather’s lap one winter evening laughing as he popped his false tooth in and out of place.


The last family reunion we had at the cabins near Zanesville, Ohio is so vivid; Grandpa was wheeled out in his chair to the fire and we watched my cousin, Hannah, open up gifts for her birthday. Grandpa smiled so big, and I remember watching my mother smile at his smile. I’ll never forget that.


Sometimes the past creeps up on you, and sometimes that past makes you sad. It’s so important to live through the good, though. My grandpa’s smile was good (even with a false tooth).


As Dave Matthews wrote, “life is short but sweet for certain,” so embrace it, and even when what’s bad is looming, something good will always trump.