Friday, June 17, 2011

remembering the forgotten birthday

I feel compelled to mark this special day as I have before, but struggled all morning with how to share this post and still be real. Because I began the week with such honesty here, it feels fitting to end it in complete truth.
After I finish writing to you, I will be heading to the phone. I will be dialing an unfamiliar number to a place I visited only two weeks ago.
A tired, but loving, voice will pick up on the other end and most likely say...
-"Hi Sweetie, I'll get him."
I'll listen to the inevitable prompt in the background...
-"It's Maya, honey, your first granddaughter."
I will then wish the man that has played the role of both my grandfather (and even more often) my father...  
A Happy 93rd Birthday!
I will explain to him who I am.
Again.
And again.
I will tell him how old he is, what the special day is, what day of the week, the month...
I will tell him several times, I am sure.
He will hear it, but a second after the words leave my mouth... the information will vanish.
Alzheimer's Disease. It began by stealing memories one by one... now and then. Now it has thieved almost every bit of his extremely brilliant mind. It's hard not to feel angered by this loss. But his gentle heart remains. Love is the only thing that his brain seems to be able to compute anymore. Is it that the function of our hearts is so completely separate? Because his is full... it still works so well.  During the time I spent with him on June 1st, I answered 100 times what day it was-Wednesday. What month- June... his birthday month. He was aware that having a handle on time was essential, but didn't know that his grasp was gone. In contrast, more than 100 times he told me confidently, without wavering, how much he loved me. He didn't know who the hell I was, but he knew/felt deeply that he loved me. I know it too. I am so grateful for the ability to still hug him and hold him. To feel him close. It has been a rich and long life, and these fleeting moments that make me ache and weep are still a precious part of the whole story. The story of 93 years on this Earth. My grandfather is an amazing man. He has lead a life worth telling about. But that is not his job anymore. It is the legacy for his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. We will carry his stories,  hold his memories, and pass down his gifts. And this morning, on June 17th, I will celebrate each and every one of them while wishing him a Happy BIRTHday!

my granparents with my little sister and me
My summers were always with my grandparents. July 1979. My 10th birthday.
listenening to the best storyteller
10 years later, now my little sister was 10(1/2).
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37 comments:

  1. Just started following you, what a sweet story! Gorgeous pictures too. My daughter is "Maya" as well :-)
    Peace!

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  2. Oh Maya - your story brought back such a flood of memories. My grandmother and two great aunts all suffered from Alzheimers. Some of the memories are funny (in retrospect). One great aunt started forgetting to feed herself - and forgetting that she had already fed her cat. That cat got HUGE! And then there are the sad memories. My grandmother called my father once from the grocery store - crying, because she couldn't remember how to get home, in the town she had lived in all her life. I think it was almost easier as the disease progressed, when she didn't realize what she was forgetting.
    Anyway - thanks for sharing such an heartfelt story. It's so wonderful that you can still spend time with your grandfather!

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  3. He looks like a very kind and sweet man.

    I can relate to what you´re describing, I wrote a post about my grandmother a while ago: http://tinajoathome.blogspot.com/2011/06/my-grandmothers-secret.html

    I feel very saddened that my grandmother only met my oldest son and doesn´t even understand that I have one more since 6 years back. I feel saddened that I can´t keep asking her about all the interesting things she´ve experienced and that she doesn´t know who I am most of the time.

    But as you say; the love is still there and she can feel that even if she doesn´t know who I am. That IS something - but the disease sucks.

    This is a great tribute to him, thanks for sharing. :-)

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  4. Maya, this post made me cry. Thank you for writing so eloquently about Alzheimer's. My grandmother had it and it can be very heart-wrenching.

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  5. Thinking of you and the phone call you will make.... Tomorrow I will be visitng my grandmother (whom the printing letters came from) who is in very much the same state as your grandfather. It is excrutiating for me to be with her as the woman whom I had the deepest of relationships with is gone.... What remains is a tease of a shell, a painful reminder of what once was..... Happy birthday to your grandfather, who played such a major role in shaping you into the incredible woman you are today....

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  6. Hearing your own stories truly helps me feel less alone in the aching of it all. I know it takes courage to comment about something so personal and I appreciate it more than I can even say.

    Mary our grandparents have been so intertwined (without knowing it)in the last few years... I'm not surprised that you will be with your grandmother tomorrow. Her letters still rest above his woodblock in my studio. I'm thinking of you, too.

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  7. I just started following you recently, too. Thank you for this beautiful post. Your grandfather looks like he has a very kind heart.

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  8. Beautiful Maya, you have such a way with words. My Grandmother is 94 and while she doesn't have Alzheimer's Disease her health has been failing this past year. It's challenging when life with your own family becomes so busy that it's hard to find pockets of time to spend with the grandparents (and other family members) that mean so much! I'm now going to go set up a lunch date with my Gran!
    Sending a warm hug to you and your family today,
    ~ joey ~

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  9. Oh Maya! I empathize so deeply with what you are going through. I too spent my summers with my grandparents, and still treasure the memories every day of my life. My beloved Grandmommy, whose courage and kindness were second to none, and who would literally (and regularly) double over with laughter despite the difficulties she faced in her life, finally succumbed to Alzheimers about 14 years ago. It still hurts thinking about it, but at the same time, there is such a joy in a life well lived.

    I'll bet your grandfather told you lots of stories growing up. That was him passing his memories along for you to keep for him.

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  10. What a beautiful post. How fortunate you are to have a grandfather who cares so deeply for you...and for so many years! Thank you for sharing.

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  11. Gosh, I'm in tears. You are so lucky that the love lingers, some can't hang onto that- but certainly, in the story of Maya, I would expect an extraordinary heart in the soulful chain that made You. Hoping his day is full of simple pleasures like your call that he recognizes - even for a heartbeat- as Happiness.

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  12. Lovely post...dealing with Alzheimer's is so unbelievably difficult. My husband's grandma had a similar experience. She died a few years ago at 96. She was a spitfire that I truly enjoyed being around. I think the fact that she had already begun the disease by the time I got to know her made it seem more "normal" to me. Watching my husband deal with this change that you have been experiencing was so hard. Holding on to those memories is so important.

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  13. It is a story hard to tell, and hard to experience, isn't it? It is so unfair and so cruel. But while memory has gone,all the sweetness has remained in your grandfather, and I find this very striking. He might not remember who you are, but he feels he loves you. So a part of him is still here and now, still alert, still shining and providing comfort. A very loving man he must be! My thoughts are with you, good luck Maya!

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  14. I didn't even get to finish your story, I barely made it through the first section, and it already touched me when you said..."again" over and over. I don't even know anyone with Alzheimer's Disease, only in stories, in movies, but somehow it hit me. I document memories my children and my family make, and I cannot imaging forgetting all those wonderful things we share. Maybe that's why it's important for me to photo-document their every move, well, not every =.) move, but significant and insignificant events, even tho' they aren't too fond of me carrying my point & shoot camera all the time. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful account of your handsome grandfather. Blessings, and Happy Birthday to him.

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  15. I love you're story, Maya. It's sad but b*e*a*u*t*i*f*u*l at the same time. And it's all about LOVE. And I truly admire you're patience. That's all that counts! Wishing you all the best.Congratulations to you're grand-
    father and YOU. Greetings with heart&soul from Sil.

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  16. Thank you for this moving and honest post, Maya.

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  17. Thank you, Maya. This post is lovely. My grandfather (95) passed away almost 2 weeks ago. His memory was all but gone, and his frail body has been fading for years, but I too am amazed at the love and trust that a person can hold for those around them even when they've lost all recollection of who those people are. I've spent a lot of time in nursing homes and I want you to know what a gift that is. To age so gracefully is not everyone's privilege. You're grandfather must be a remarkable man. Love and blessings to both of you.

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  18. This is the second time this week that I've cried while reading your blog. I can't even imagine what it must be like for your sweet Grand-dad. This week has shown me that all memories are precious, not just the happy ones... and love is stronger than anything on this earth.

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  19. Maya - I am in tears right now. Thank you for sharing with such love and honesty.

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  20. Oh Maya, my heart aches with yours. Today is the 14th anniversary of the day my father died from a massive heart attack. It's a hard day! You are in my thoughts and my prayers.

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  21. Isn't it good that it's LOVE that is planted in this man and not anger or bitterness. That's a gift.

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  22. Thank you for sharing this story, Maya! I am glad he imparted to you a fierce love, warmth and positivity that you so clearly share with your family, the earth and us.

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  23. what a beautiful post. It's so nice that you have such good grandfather memories, and I can imagine, hard not to be angry.

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  24. Thank you so much for posting this! My grandfather passed away over a decade ago but I had the same experience with him. At the end of his life he had no idea who I was but was extremely loving and obviously really liked having me around. It is so special and I had almost forgotten the beauty of those memories.

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  25. My dad has Alzheimer's Disease and it is the most painful thing to watch. It's almost a daily, prolonged grieving process - even while he is still alive.

    With Father's Day coming up tomorrow, I know he doesn't comprehend the meaning or importance of the day. However, being happy for him and having that feeling be what HE experiences will help him be happy and in a good mood for many days following Father's Day.

    He may not remember the day...but he remembers the feelings - of happiness, love, and caring. These are the things that sustain him (and me) on the most difficult days.

    I'm sure your grandfather feels those same feelings from you as well...not only on his birthday, but every day he hears your voice or sees you!

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  26. Thank you. Each and every one of you. Your stories and thoughts have comforted me more than a little response comment can really convey. I feel so fortunate to be a part of a community that reaches out with such support, love and honesty.

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  27. This post made me cry. Good for you to have the courage and strength to be present for your grandfather. He sounds like a gem.

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  28. Maya - what a wonderful man your grandfather is. You are truly his grandaughter in every sense of the word.

    My husband and I are going through this with his Mom. She's past the point of conversing at all. How my father-in-law took care of her until just last month was amazing. He had a stroke last month, so now both of them are in different wings of the same nursing home. The slow slipping away is so hard.

    All of this is to say I know a bit of what you're going through, and I share in your pain - and the joy of your memories.

    Peace - Candy

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  29. Oh Candy, You do know, don't you. My grandmother had been doing most of the caregiving until a fall last month. They have both moved to a nursing home. Something we never wanted to do, but there was no other choice. Yes, the slow slipping away. Peace to you and your family.

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  30. Oh god..Maya. What an incredible & beautifully written tribute to your grandfather. You can see his beautiful heart in those photos & my heart breaks to hear of the loss you have all suffered due to his illness. Here is to his life & his amazing spirit. It is no small feat to be loved like he is, by you. All the best hunnie!
    xo
    Melis

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  31. Beautiful words for an incredible man, Maya. happy birthday to your grandfather.

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  32. I didn't comment yesterday because I was wearing makeup for a special occasion, so I had to stop reading fairly quickly after I started. It is so very hard to see someone you love lose so very much. At the end of my grandma's life, I was just a nice young girl who would take her out on the porch so she could smoke. I wasn't her granddaughter because she didn't even have a son in her mind. I hated going to see her because it was so hard not to be known anymore. I still went though. I've never once regretted it even though I cried in the parking lot each time I left her.

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  33. Oh, I'm sorry. Thank you for sharing your story. My grandfather had Alzheimer's also. It's such a horrible disease isn't it. The respect and love you are showing your grandfather is lovely (& strong). I had trouble visiting my grandfather in his final years. Once the grandfather I knew was well and truly gone I couldn't. I felt (feel) selfish, but I wanted the memories of his earlier years to be stronger than his recent.

    That black and white photo captures one very special moment. the smiles on the face of you and your sister are so full of love. Magical.

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  34. thank you for sharing your story,...i hold it with love...
    xoxo

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  35. a very special story to share .. i went down that same road with my own mother ..who died on my birthday ..a gift of freedom for her ..and me as well .. sending you much love this day ~

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  36. What a beautiful tribute to a special man in your life....all you can do is love him right back and keep those memories on for your children.

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