“i’m the only daughter of her oldest son
i knew her well before her spirit was gone
and her life is a thread woven into every part of me
she is unraveling, she is unraveling
– “Unraveling”, Liz Longley
i recently discovered Liz Longley, a talented singer-songwriter, whose song “Unraveling” hit extremely close to home. sharing the personal story of her experience with her grandmother with Alzheimer’s, this song is beautiful, melodically and lyrically. most importantly to me, it is the song i would have wanted to write if i were a songwriter.
for a very long time, i’ve never really shared anything about my grandmother with people outside of my family. maybe not talking about it helped me to cope. but now more than ever, i know i need to really acknowledge that the strong, independent, fierce spirit of a woman i knew to be my grandmother, is gone. in her place is a frail, fragile body that breaks my heart every time i think about her. Alzheimer’s is such a devastating disease. how do we cope, having to grieve but unable to really move on when their physical presence is a constant reminder of the loved one we’ve lost?
i hope i will always remember unique moments with my grandmother. it’s what i have left. i visited Hong Kong not that long ago. it was my first trip there as an adult, and naturally brought back memories of when i visited as a kid. one thing that really stood out in my mind was recalling back to when i was about 8…
i spent a summer with relatives in Hong Kong while my parents stayed in Canada. part of that time was spent with my grandmother who had not yet immigrated here. too young to venture around on my own, and therefore without any independence, i was at the mercy of her schedule, tagging along everywhere she went. this sudden immersion into a life so different from mine was something that of course as a kid, i couldn’t appreciate as much as i do now.
a few of the more memorable outings with my gram included visits to Chinese temples. navigating the busy, crowded streets of Hong Kong, taking minibuses, buses, trams, taxis or a combination of all four. what seemed like a virtual eternity of a commute in the insufferable heat and humidity, we would arrive at a temple, going through the traditions of taking off our shoes, bowing the 3 bows to the deities, lighting incense, giving offerings of food. my mind is fuzzy on the rest – how long we’d spend there, what else we did, where these temples were…
that smell of burning incense, also a familiar aroma in her home, still conjures up these snippets of memories. they zip through my mind the way intricate fast paced edited montages do in a movie, sort of Guy Ritchie style, without the darkness and violence.
from this little trip down memory lane, i wonder about why it never occurred to me to ask my grandmother to fill in those details from my childhood. it is too late now. with advanced Alzheimer’s, she has long ago forgotten who i am, and cannot hold any form of conversation with anyone. the memories of that time we spent together back then, as lacking in detail as they are, i alone have to keep them for us both.
over the years, as i lost my grandmother bit by bit to this debilitating disease, i tried not to get overwhelmed by the sadness of it all. like too many cases, the initial diagnosis came later than it could have, all due to a lack of awareness of the signs and symptoms. and gradually, that is how it happened. my opportunity to get to know her better while i could have, it slipped away.
January is Alzheimer’s month in Canada. the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada says that 1 in 11 Canadians over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. i want to start the year off on a positive note, so it is my true hope that if this post can reach just one person, to bring some awareness to the disease, that would be a very good thing. take a read at the 10 warning signs, gain an understanding of the stages of Alzheimer’s, consider donating to the Alzheimer’s society or association in your country.
because there is still no cure, the earlier someone is diagnosed means that much more quality time you can have together. whether any of your loved ones are Alzheimer’s sufferers or not, cherish the moments you have with them. life is short, and memories are so precious. let them know what they mean to you. even if they eventually forget, you won’t.
“she can’t remember but how could a heart forget?” – Liz Longley