Tag Archive for alzheimer’s disease

On the death of my grandfather

I have a mole on the side of my body, right between my right breast and armpit. It used to look like most of my other moles, small, flat, and brown, but it looks different now, and I’m kind of freaking out about it. Not because I’m scared it’s cancerous or anything like that, but because this mole is special, as my grandpa, Poppo, had the exact same mole in the exact same spot.

For those of you who follow this blog, but don’t know me in real life, my Poppo died at the end of this past December. If you do know me or read me, then you’ll know that this has been a devastating, however expected, loss. I won’t go into everything again (you can read more about him here and here) but he co-raised me and we were very close when I was growing up. For over a decade before he died, he suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. In the end he didn’t really remember any of us except my grandmother, and he lived full-time in a special home for people with memory loss.

A lot of people aren’t close to their grandparents, so they don’t really get it, and they say or want me to say that he was like a father to me, but it wasn’t exactly like that. I never had a father, so I wouldn’t know what that means. Poppo was my best friend and one of the only people who has ever made me feel completely safe and loved. Years ago a sentence like that would have never appeared in my writing, because feeling safe and loved is not funny, or really very interesting as far as the big story goes, but getting older and trying to get healthy mentally makes you say and feel all kinds of things that aren’t super amusing. I have lived for almost my whole life genuinely believing that I just can’t seem to do anything right, but my grandpa’s love always got through to me. He never made me feel ashamed or ugly.

I’ve been hard on myself for mourning so deeply. I can’t figure out why it still hurts so much, especially since he was so old and sick, so ready to go, and went so peacefully. But I suppose watching the person you love most in the entire world exhale for the final time doesn’t fit neatly into the definition of “peaceful.” It was harder in the end to watch him leave his earthly body because I had stuffed down my feelings about slowly losing who he was long before that. Just as my favorite mole is changing, I watched my grandpa change before my eyes for years and then had to turn away. It was too painful to see him, too difficult to accept that he was alive but not there to read my stories or meet the person I want to spend the rest of my life with (who reminds me a lot of him, by the way. Sometimes cliches work out). Of course, unlike the weird, raised, discolored mole (TMI), which I will probably have to get removed, my Poppo never turned into anything ugly. He was beautiful to the very end and beyond, from his last breath with most of my family by his side to the amazing pictures we shared at his rosary to the strength he gave my cousin to deliver his beautiful eulogy.

I know it will get easier, because there are more funny stories about Poppo than sad times, but I will miss him forever.

living ghosts

Those of you who know me or read my blog regularly know that I was very close with my grandfather growing up and that my grandfather now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. He has lived in a nursing home for about three or four years, I think.

The years have sort of escaped me because, as you also may know, I rarely visit him for my own personal reasons that only I can wrestle with. I hope it doesn’t make you think less of me as a person. It’s really a lovely place as far as nursing homes go, and the staff is wonderful, but every time I go there I end up running out in tears, so for the most part the only times I see my Poppo are when they bring him out to visit. He can’t be out too long because he starts to get antsy and uncomfortable. People with Alzheimer’s do not like to be far from home, and that place is his home now.

Once upon a time, he lived with me. Or rather, I lived with him, my grandma, my aunt, and my mother. It was a happy home, if somewhat overly filled with grown-ups. I remember being small and sitting at his desk. I don’t think I ever knew what it was he did at that desk. Maybe it belonged to my mother or my aunt, but I associated it with Poppo because he was the one with all the papers. He had so many papers and letters, stacked and wrapped with rubber bands, on the desk, in his dresser, and in the drawers of his bathroom. Then there were the pens. There were pens everywhere. He seemed partial to black pens, belted at their plastic middles with silver rings and with a sliver clicker at the top. I loved those pens, and I would sit at his desk and play all the time. My favorite things to do were to write words and draw (poorly) on huge yellow legal pads, swivel around in the old 70s desk chair that was upholstered in marigold, and press the buttons on the fluorescent desk lamp on and off over and over again. This may not sound that fun, but I liked the way the lamp buzzed loudly and glowed softly if you pressed the button lightly, but then went into a quiet hum and bright glow when you gave it a good, hard press.

The more I think about this, the more I am starting to understand my unreasonable fondness for office supplies.

Anyway, I thought of my grandpa today as I searched online for a vintage desk lamp to go on the desk I rescued from the streets of Echo Park. The desk is old, cheaply made of wood painted a 70s shade of peachy pink. I hope to fill the drawers with pens and paper goods and use its surface to write all the things I will never get to show my Poppo. He is alive and full of love in his heart, I know this, but he is not with me as I wish he could be.

When I’m at my grandma’s house, where his dresser still stands, I feel like I can almost see him shuffling about from desk to drawer, stack of papers in hand. Sometimes I have to take a second look to really know he isn’t there. It scared me the first time this happened. It frightened me that I could see his ghost while he is still very much alive. Now I just think of that shadowy figure as a moving memory of the senses, a beautiful memory, like the kind triggered by the scent of jasmine on a summer breeze. Only mine visits with the smell of aging paper and, just the softest finger press away, the drone of a fluorescent bulb in an otherwise darkened room.