A couple of Thanksgiving’s ago, my parents hosted my dad’s family for dinner. My grandmother on that side of the family suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. If I’m not mistaken, she’s had it for close to five years now. I don’t remember exactly when she was first diagnosed. It actually might be even longer than that.
Regardless, as time passes, she deteriorates. It’s horrible. So sad. I don’t handle these sort of things well, so I always feel tremendously awkward when around her. I want to talk to her, but she doesn’t know who I am anymore. She does, however, know that I’m tall.
Actually, this is sort of weird, but ever since the day I showed up to my grandmother’s house and was taller than her, not a visit went by where she didn’t talk about how tall I am. Literally every single visit, “Hoo, my. Michael, you just keep growing.” “I can’t get over how tall you are.” “Goodness. What happened to little Michael?” The thing is, I’ve been the same height now since I was about 17 years old, but this wouldn’t stop her from gasping at the sight of me well into my twenties.
I tried to come up with new things to say to her in an attempt to explain my lanky physique, but there’s only so much you can do. But the funny thing is that even now, though she doesn’t seem to know who I am, she does have that look of recognition in her eyes because of my height. She’ll look up and sort of smile shyly and look away as she mumbles something like, “boy…tall…whoo.”
For the record, I’m only 6’3″. That’s really not that tall. But I guess it did make me the tallest on that side of the family.
Anyway, getting back to that Thanksgiving a couple/few years ago. We were all sitting around the living room and my grandmother was in there. A few of us were eating dinner there as the dining room table was full. But I’d notice my grandmother staring at me. So I’d smile at her and look away to engage someone in conversation or watch TV. Then I’d look back at her and she’d be sort of staring at me again. So I’d smile.
This sort of went on for awhile through out the afternoon/evening. I didn’t think anything of it. Until, that is, much later when she and my grandfather were on their way out. My grandfather was leading her by the hand and he’d stopped to say goodbye to someone. My proximity to them was such that my grandmother was now standing directly to my right as I sat on the sofa. She looked down at me, almost umcomfortably and with what seemed like disapproval.
“I’ve seen you watching me today,” she said in a half whisper. “But you should know that this is my husband.”
It took a moment for my brain to register the assumption that my grandmother’s corroded mind had made.
“Grandma!” I said. “I know who that is.”
But that’s all I could say. She looked away from me, then back at me, almost as if giving me a warning. I smiled at her again. Then they left.
It took a little while before I could confess to my dad that his mother had basically accused me of hitting on her. Just the mere thought of it was disturbing on several levels. First and foremost: that’s just gross. But secondly, it was an indication of just how sick she is.
But there’s little that one can do when a family member is faced with this condition. You can only try to make them comfortable really. As they sort of regress to a more childlike state of mind, you can’t help but be amused by them in the same way we’re amused by young children who are learning and discovering things for the first time.
Anyway, in a few weeks my family and I will be participating in one of the many annual Alheimer’s Memory Walks. This is an event meant to serve as a means to raise money for research to find out more about Alzheimer’s.
I know many of us have been donating to relief funds supporting those who have lost everything to Katrina, so it’s hard to even consider asking for support for something else, but here I am. I guess I’d like to get this thing figured out. So, I’ll just post the Alzheimer’s Association address and if you think you might be capable of helping out, please, please do. And feel free to make your donations in the name of Fran Fertig, my grandmother.
If I happen to know you, and you’d like to help out, feel free to give me your checks personally. Make them out to the Alzheimer’s Association. The Memory Walk takes place on the 24th of September, so there’s time. And I’ll put your donation with the others I’ve already received.
Otherwise, to make a donation by phone, please call 1.800.272.3900. To make a donation by mail, send a check to Alzheimer’s Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Fl. 17, Chicago, Ill. 60601-7633.
There are a lot of things I don’t want to forget when I’m older, so help out if you can.