Alzheimer's Through a Grandchild's Eyes

Alzheimer's Through a Grandchild's Eyes

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month and No Bags To Check is going purple with a series dedicated to this important cause and the Alzheimer’s Association’s The Longest Day event on June 21st. This guest post about Alzheimers and grandchildren is by Erin Petron Grosser.

"Hi, Grandma."

"Hi, Erin. How are you and Matthew?"

"Good. We're watching the 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' movie."

"Oh, that's nice. How was school today?"

"It was good. I got all the words right on my spelling test."

"That's wonderful! What are you doing this weekend?"

"Matt has a soccer game tomorrow, and I have one on Sunday."

"Oh...hi there... Who is this?"

"It's Erin, Grandma."

"Oh...Erin...How is...Matthew?"

"He's good."

"How was school today?"

"It was okay."

"That's good. What are you doing this weekend?"

"Matt plays soccer tomorrow, and I play on Sunday, Grandma."

I scrunch my shoulder to my ear to hold the phone in place as I glare at my mother. I impatiently hold up two fingers to let her know that the conversation has already happened twice. She looks at me with stern yet pleading eyes and holds up her pointer finger to indicate one more minute. I know that one more minute means one more loop of the same conversation, and one more minute that I'm not watching my favorite movie.


"Hi, Grandma. This is Erin." ...

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Judging by when the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie came out on VHS, I was eight years old during that conversation. It probably happened every two weeks, which was plenty for the normal, self-centered 2nd grade kid that I was.

Why did I even have to talk to my grandma?

Couldn't my mom just tell her about my brother and me?

What was the point, if she could never remember?

I'm sure that every child has asked their parents the first two of the three questions above. To young kids, with much more important things to do, like seeing if the Turtles would defeat Shredder for the 237th time, talking to grandparents is a nuisance.

But the last question must have particularly stung for my mother:

What was the point, if she could never remember?

How do you explain to an eight year old (and a four year old) that we do not forget about someone just because she becomes forgetful? Why stress the importance of remembering to call her if she won't remember anything we say? Isn't it painful enough to feel her mind going a little more every time, to know that it is only getting worse and will never get better?

By my 11th birthday, I probably knew a lot more about Alzheimer's than the average kid. I knew that people with Alzheimer's could remember things in the distant past far better than those in the recent past. I knew that people with Alzheimer's might become easily frustrated when they couldn't find an item that they used every day like a comb or a toothbrush. I knew that people with Alzheimer's were intelligent and well-read, even though they could not remember a detail that had just been shared with them. I knew all of these things because of my grandma's battle with the disease.

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I cried at my grandma's funeral, in the spring of 5th grade. I cried because my mom, grandpa, aunts and uncles were crying. I felt guilty at the time, but my heart couldn't fully mourn someone that I didn't know. From as far back as I could remember, I had never gotten past three or four sentences with my grandma before they were repeated. How painful this all must have been for my grandpa, having his wife of 60+ years there, but so completely not there. After living with Alzheimer's for nearly 10 years, she was now truly gone.

I remember the photograph of my grandma that hung just outside my grandpa's bedroom. Upon entering and exiting the room, he would lean into the wall and kiss her picture. Over time, the glass became smeared with whatever food he had just eaten. Sometimes, the smudges got so bad that you couldn't even see her face. Most likely, it was my aunt who cleaned it. But I never wanted to see a perfectly Windexed frame. There was something so touching about seeing his grimy lip prints on the glass. It was as if you could witness his aching for her on display.

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Now, I am a mother. My own mother has become "Grandma" to my almost three year old son. That's how old I was when my grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. To say that I do not want the story to come full circle would be the understatement of the year.

It is rare that I let myself think about it, as all children are in some form of denial of losing their parents. There is fear, accompanied by selfishness.

I do not want to be required to explain to my kid why talking to his forgetful grandma is more important than surfing the web on his iPad. I do not want my father's patience tested, taking care of someone who can't remember simple things from day to day. These are the selfish reasons, in which I almost revert back to that 8-year-old, impatient and callous.

And I fear that, while I know my heart's own threshold for despair, I do not know what my child can handle. We parents never want to see our children sad. It doubles our own suffering. I'm not sure that I can bear the look of disappointment on his face if Grandma cannot remember where to find his favorite books, what sport he plays...his name.

We will all lose our parents at some point. But, Alzheimer's: you are a thief of memories, stealing your victim from her loved ones in the most cruel and unfair way.


Erin Petron Gosser is the Social Butterfly Mom, striving to maintain a social life with and without her kid. Blogger, cabaret rapper, below average triathlete, and club hopper. Book club, that is. 

To support the Alzheimer's Association, the world's leading organization in Alzheimer's care, support, and research, and The Longest Day event, click here. Your support matters.

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Filed under: Alzheimer's

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