As a child here in New Orleans, I was extremely lucky that my grandmother lived just a few houses down from us. As the first grandchild, my grandmother and I were always incredibly close; I visited her nearly every day. She was my girl scout assistant troop leader, and she taught me how to play Gin Rummy. We would play for hours while watching tennis and Talk Soup. She taught me how to sew, and we would make a million bean bags, laughing as we filled them, rice flying everywhere. I would sneak up into her craft room and together we would spend hours crafting and sewing or I would watch as she crocheted beautiful afghans. Mine was a happy childhood, with my grandma always close by. As I got older, however, I did what every pre-teen and teenager does: I drifted away as I became more involved in school clubs and sleepovers with friends. I left the deck of cards, the sewing machine, the crafts, and my grandmother on the sidelines.
It was not intentional; it never is. Growing older and perhaps apart is part of life.
Six years ago, with a new baby in my own family, I started my handmade children’s clothing business. When I received my first sewing machine, it was just like riding a bike; I picked back up right where I left off with my grandmother. She had given me the basic skills to sew throughout childhood, and the rest I learned through trial and error. Lots and lots of errors! My grandmother was so incredibly proud of me; she would beam with pride.
My grandmother has advanced Alzheimer’s now.
It is heartbreaking to spend time with what was once my vibrant grandmother. On the outside you wouldn’t know, of course; I am an avoider, and I pretend it does not bother me. On the inside I am a heartbroken granddaughter, sad for what has happened to my dearly loved grandmother and that she can no longer carry on a conversation and is confused by who I am. She thinks my own children are my mom’s children. Every once in awhile we see a spark of the woman she once was. She will occasionally recognize a memory we discuss, or laugh at a joke, or hug me extra tight like she recognizes me, but it is always fleeting. Watching a loved one fade away due to disease is not easy.
I worry for my mom’s future and honestly for my own with this hereditary and debilitating disease. My mom and I repeat stories to each other, and in the back of my mind I often wonder if we are headed to the same future as my grandma. Are we, too, going to lose our memory? Or are we both simply busy with life, work and kids? My own children know that Mimi has a boo-boo and that it is inside her head; I hope when they’re older and have kids of their own that they simply remember that Mimi loved to try to color with them.
As children, we think we are invincible, that our loved ones will always be around.
No one prepares you for these sad situations growing up, and perhaps they should not. I remember a fun, happy, generally problem-free childhood with my grandmother always nearby. I sincerely hope somewhere inside, she does too. What I wouldn’t give to play one more round of Gin Rummy with her; now all I have is a heart full of happy memories and a hope chest full of afghans.