I always loved my grandma, Doris, very much. Every time I was with her I wondered how she could be so funny and loving and great to be around. Often visits to grandma's resulted in one of two things, an afternoon of swimming in the pool, or a trip to Hersheypark. Sometimes we'd go take the tour of the giant, fake chocolate factory. Even though it was unchanging, I never tired of riding it with her, and she never seemed to get tired of it either. People were Grandma's specialty. She had been a nurse, and had an incredible bedside manner. Everywhere she went she left smiles and laughter in her wake.
Grandma had Alzheimer's disease. When my parents first told me, I was too young to understand. All I knew was that grandma had something wrong in her head. I assumed she was like a zany professor from a cartoon: crazy, but in a good way. I don't know when I was first able to grasp the real facts of her disease. I just remember knowing that I was going to lose my grandma very slowly. It was easy enough to deny, but even so, just the thought of the inevitability of the disease made me want to cry. Alzheimer's is not the kind of disease that allows for closure. Other diseases leave a person either alive and sick, or deceased. Alzheimer's has a way of blurring the line. With Alzheimer's, one reaches a point where, although the body still ages, the mind begins to regress through time. That is what makes the disease so terrible. Not only does it take a loved one from you, it takes you from your loved one.
Unfortunately, most of my memories of my grandma are from the time when Alzheimer's was truly starting to affect her. She would tell the same stories again and again. I didn't mind. It was sad, and enjoyable all at once. Her stories became like tours of the chocolate factory, unchanging, repeated, but sincerely enjoyed every single time. My grandpa would take her to family reunions every time they were held. She loved to be among the friends and family she had known all her life. It was at one of these events that she first forgot who I was.
As she was leaving, she saw me and yelled "Devin! Get in the car!" Devin is her youngest son, my uncle. That was also the first time I truly felt Alzheimer's fullest sting. My name, my personality, everything about me, had been taken from her. For the rest of her life, I was either introduced as her grandson or just seen as a young man who was somehow familiar. It hurt to know she no longer knew who I was, but that I still had my memories of her. One day she died. The news was sad, and met with tears, but there was also a certain amount of relief.
Through her disease, I learned much about myself. I learned that sometimes bad things happen to good people. People always say that, but anyone who hasn't lost a good person to something bad may have trouble understanding what it really means. It means that a disease like Alzheimer's can take anyone. The only thing anyone can hope to do about it is to be as loving and helpful as a nurse up until the end. A strong family community was part of my grandma's legacy, and it's still here. Most importantly, I learned that we should strive to make the most of every single day, and to do it with a smile. I remember my grandma for how happy and full of life she was, and, more than anything, that is how I would like to be remembered.