A Glimpse into Age

April 13, 2009

I've been a bit lax in my blogging duties over the past couple of days, mainly because I recently flew 2,000 miles to Colorado with my husband to visit his aunt and grandparents. They are lovely Midwestern people with lovely Midwestern manners, so I'm having a fairly good time despite the darkness that still occasionally claws at my mind. Right now, I can see the golden glow of the sun setting behind cloud-draped mountains from the sliding glass doors off of the living room. Tomorrow, we are going up into the mountains for some majestic sightseeing, and then to a mall to window shop.

Today, however, was a little sad for my husband. He decided to drive about four hours from Boulder to Wray, Colorado to visit his grandmother on his mother's side, who was admitted to a seniors home nearly a year ago when her husband died. He went knowing that she probably wouldn't remember who he was. Over the past few years, her memory has rapidly faded into the gray shadows of old age, leaving her only with a vague impression of having lived a good life. Names, faces, details of the past and present have become fleeting and irrelevant in her mind.

I walked into the seniors home with my husband and felt a wave of relief: it was the nicest, cleanest seniors home I have ever seen. I remember when my own grandmother was placed in a nursing home when my family saw that she was losing her battle with Alzheimer's, and the building smelled so dank that I could hardly stand to breathe whenever I walked in to visit her. To top it off, my grandmother exerted a vehement independence and forced others to accept her interpretation of reality, no matter how fantastical it had become.

Fortunately, that was not the case today, though it was no less sad. My husband's grandmother welcomed us into her room, overjoyed that a family member had remembered her and stopped by to visit. Here's how it went:

Grandma: "So, how do I know you?"
Husband: "I'm your grandson, your daughter's son."
Grandma: "Well, I'm so glad you came to see me. I don't feel sorry for myself, even though my husband died. This is a nice place. As you can see, I have all the books I want to read. And I don't have to cook or clean or work at all."
Husband: "That's great. I'm happy that you're doing well."
Grandma: "Yes, they even remember your birthday here. As you can see, I had a birthday recently, and they put it up on the wall." [She motioned to a Happy Birthday balloon hanging on the closet door.] "I am eighty...something. I know I'm not ninety. That's just too old."
Husband: "I'm sorry, I don't remember either. But who's counting?"
Grandma: "Yes. So how did you say you were related to me again?"

And for the next hour, we rehashed this same conversation nearly verbatim a dozen times. Three times, she asked my husband to describe her former home on the farm her husband worked for years while she taught elementary school. When she wondered aloud whether she would remember our visit, I stood up and wrote it on the calendar above her bed. When we left, we both kissed her on the forehead, and she cried in gratitude.

Later, in the car, and after a long, teary silence, my husband asked, "If you can't remember the things that brought you joy, how could you remember that you were ever happy?" I didn't have an answer, but I like to think that true happiness leaves an impression on the soul that time cannot erase. I can only hope that we will be so fortunate in the future.

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