95: The Struggle for His Sanity

95: The Struggle for His Sanity

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

The Struggle for His Sanity

Grandchildren are the dots that connect the lines from generation to generation.

~Lois Wyse

It was a cold January day and I walked into my grandfather’s house for one of our normal visits. There was a scent of fresh leather from his new furniture. He greeted me with a warm smile.

“Hi honey,” he said while he walked towards me with his arms slowly opening wide enough for me to fall into.

“Hey Papa, have you already had dinner?” I asked, slowly releasing our hug. “If not, I brought some leftovers.”

As I walked over to the table to set down his food I noticed some peculiar things. Crackers were stored in the microwave and photos were evenly laid out on the table as if he had thought out exactly where each picture should go. Without responding, he shuffled his way over to the table next to me, gently picked up a picture of my mother when she was a child, and examined it.

With a quick glance I said, “Isn’t that a cute picture of her?” Walking away to grab a plate he said something that broke my heart and terrified me.

“Yeah, it is. But why do I have this picture? Who is she?”

I turned around and saw an expression on his face that I will never forget. He looked genuinely lost. I saw no spark in his eyes, just a deep blue abyss.

That was the beginning of his fight, and the start of my struggle to keep him with me. At that moment I realized why my family was scared for him. This is what Alzheimer’s was doing to him while I was at school, at practice, sleeping, and now, while I was standing right next to him. From that moment on, I took the initiative to help him. I stayed at his house most of the time for the next three years.

I did his laundry, cooked, cleaned, paid his bills, mowed the lawn, tucked him into bed at night, and laid his clothes out for the next day. If I didn’t he would forget and wear the same outfit for days. I brushed his teeth, helped him into the shower, rubbed his feet, and rolled him around town in his wheelchair so he could socialize. I’d buy his groceries, and give him his medicine. Every day for me was dancing in circles, doing the same thing, but it was a spontaneous adventure for him.

During my time caring for him, I grew from a thirteen-year-old girl whose only focus was to make myself happy, to a sixteen-year-old young woman who had to grow up and take responsibility for someone else’s life.

I learned to be compassionate, patient, and understanding to make someone else content. I had to be his light when he couldn’t see where he was going. I had to hold his hand when he was scared. When he was crying because he didn’t understand what was happening to him I embraced him, even though I couldn’t explain what was happening to him either.

Then it happened. I came home from work, ready to do my second job. “Hey Papa,” I said, walking up to the table to set down his to-go dinner and my purse. I turned around just as his fist was about to hit me.

“Who are you? Get out of my house!” he screamed at me, taking another step toward me, shaking with fear. His eyes were mean.

“Grandpa, stop! It’s Amy. I take care of you!” There was an uneasy silence. He just stood there examining me. Not taking the chance, I backed another step away.

“Grandpa, do you remember me? I live with you. I’m Amy!” I was trying to find a flicker of remembrance in his eyes, but saw nothing. He was so deadly serious it sent chills up my spine.

Standing there breathing hard, he pointed to the door and in a shaky voice said, “Get Out!”

That was the first time I’d ever looked at my grandpa and saw the monster that was slowly killing him. The monster that destroyed his laugh, his will to sing, his enthusiasm for life and the love he used to have for me. With tears in my eyes, and a knot in my throat, I turned away and left. Feeling defeated, the next day my family took him to a nursing home.

He died a few months later. I grew up a lot during those years and I don’t regret the time I spent caring for him. I couldn’t control the fact that my grandpa was losing himself, and eventually didn’t even know me, his caregiver, but I could control how I treated him. I let him know he would always have me by his side no matter what. I am so happy that I could do this for him.

~Amy Merrill

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