November is national Alzheimer’s Awareness month. Though the month is nearly over, I wanted to share a letter that I wrote to help me cope with the pain I’ve endured due to Alzheimer’s robbing my dear grandfather from me and so many. This letter has been a way for me to heal and I hope it helps others heal too.
Has your family been affected by this terrible disease? Feel free to share your story in the comments.
Dear Whomever You Are,
You walked through my front door with hollow eyes and a big smile, extending your hand out in front of you as one would do when introducing themselves to someone new. “Nice to meet you,” you said. “Nice to meet you,” I replied. All at once my heart dropped into my stomach and I felt empty. Completely crushed, I escorted you inside.
You stay so close to Grandma now, reminiscent of the way my toddler follows me around the house. Only, Grandma raised her 8 kids years ago and she probably never expected this cruel twist of fate. You look so lost, eyes staring off. Where are you, Grandpa? I wonder to myself, are you in there? Then every so often a touch of your likeness returns but no sooner you’re gone again.
Grandpa, you were always a wonderful story-teller. How I miss talking to you. When I was growing up you told me about your family and your childhood. I know now that you wanted me to have stories to pass on to my children one day and now more than ever I’m so grateful for those talks. We bonded over our love of cooking shows and you taught me how to make our “famous” family recipes. Standing by my side with patience, you helped me perfect my cooking skills. You encouraged me and I felt loved.
Never in a million years did I think this would be your fate and our pain. I remember sitting around the tree one year on Christmas morning and I looked over at you Grandpa and an intense feeling came over me. It was as if the voice of God was telling me that you were not going to be here next Christmas. That we would never have this holiday together again. I’m not sure if this was because you had been getting sick that year or if it was God helping me to prepare. Whatever it was, this terrifying thought became real. By summer you were gone. Your eyes changed, as if the lights went out and a shell was left behind. Dementia took you so swiftly away.
I feel like I’m mourning the loss of you over and over again but you’re still alive. Every handshake, every introduction, every story you tell that never happened, every time I hesitate to kiss you or tell you I love you, for fear of making you uncomfortable and confused. Every time I try to remember the last coherent and real conversation we had or the last time you said you loved me and meant it. I miss you. As much as I long to be near you, being with you brings up so much pain.
This year is your 65th Wedding Anniversary. A happy occasion for most folks blessed enough to be married this long but I imagine Grandma will be tormented that you don’t know her the way you should. You won’t wake up and know to wish her a Happy Anniversary. You won’t kiss her and reminisce about all that you’ve shared together over all these years. It hardly seems fair that you won’t get to enjoy this momentous occasion or that she should have to endure this pain. I pray that if even for a moment, you’ll return that day and give her some hope that you’re still in there. That you love her. That you will look into her eyes and remind her of the vows you took all those years ago and that you’d do it all over again. I’m sure she would too and I know she misses you. You were her best friend.
When I think of the family that you and Grandma built together and all of the people who love you, it’s hard to still feel joy. It’s mostly immense sadness. It’s not fair. Here we all are. You’re always on our minds and yet you must feel so alone, wherever you are. Whomever you are.
I miss you. I miss everything about you, so much so that it’s part of the reason this disease is so cruel. It robbed you of everything you were and it’s slowly stealing you from this life. You don’t deserve it. We don’t deserve it.
I hope that when you’re around your family you at least feel love, even though you don’t know us. I hope you feel “home” even when you don’t know where you are. I hope you see something familiar in our eyes, even if you believe they belong to someone else. In times of fear, I hope you feel the peace of Jesus, even if you can’t call out His name. I hope that you go to bed at night feeling safe and please know, if nothing else, that every day you wake up we are blessed. Every day that you’re here, whomever you are, we are given another day in which we don’t have to completely let go. Another day to care for you and love you on this earth and though I wish you were not sick and you were truly here, I know one day we will be reunited on the other side of this life and I look forward to your warm embrace, no introductions needed.