“How do you cook leeks mum?” I yelled down the phone from my hectic university kitchen last week, (as I am certainly not a natural cook). After ascertaining that there are many ways to cook a leek and deciding I’ll leave that project for another day, I escaped the smoke ridden fire hazard that is my kitchen and continued my conversation.
“The irony” my Mother proclaimed in a melodramatic lament.
It turns out my Grandma, her mother, had just been on the phone asking for a similar culinary solution: “Do I make toast in the microwave?”
My Grandma is a beautiful woman; she was bright, witty and undeniably active. She was that sort of person who was firm but fair; she employed tough love and could be quite stubborn. As a child, I would never eat my vegetables (an amusing coincidence now that I am a vegetarian) and one of my most vivid memories is her being the nagging persistent voice across the dinner table that would force me to eat every last carrot and every last sprout until my plate was clear. “You should not leave a saucy dish” She would declare on repeat.
She had so many wonderful characteristics and quirks to her personality, that it seems unfair to have added Alzheimer’s disease to this list. Arguably, maybe it’s not right, for the last six years to categorise Alzheimer’s as a characteristic of my Grandma. Maybe it should not fall into the same sentence as funny, kind and intelligent. Maybe the hurtful disease should not function as an adjective of which to describe my relation. Yet, I cannot see how it could be detached from this occupation.
Alzheimer’s is this demon-like shadow that stalks its prey. As time progresses, it moves closer and closer to its victim, slowly consuming them and simultaneously feeding off of their personality. It becomes a part of them. As a family, you must watch the inventory of characteristics you previously associated with them, diminish rapidly; until it is the only one left.
The biggest confusion I am currently facing when describing my grandma is which tense to use. ‘She was bright and witty’ or ‘She is bright and witty’. I think this is synonymous with one of the toughest challenges a family faces in these circumstances. Obviously, families will handle the affliction of this degenerate disease discordantly, but for my family, the only way to protect ourselves was to acknowledge that my Grandma is not the same person she used to be. She is no longer the bright, witty, vegetable-loving woman we knew. For that reason, I’ll have to describe her in the past tense.
A friend told me recently that 1 in 4 people in the UK are affected by Alzheimer’s, either directly or indirectly. I suppose that’s why I wrote this blog. Before she disappears entirely, I want a place where I can intermittently record my memories of her as she was and my experiences caring for an Alzheimer’s sufferer. Whether it’s recalling her meeting with the Queen, or the time she walked to France (both of which are a fictional product of her memory confusion), I want people to see an honest view of how a normal family deals with the stresses and troubles that the disease creates.