I was ten years old when my Nana Waterhouse passed away. I wore a yellow skirt with a white blouse to her funeral. Yellow was her favorite colour then and is one of mine still. I remember that day. I remember a lot of things. My Nana did not.
Alzheimer’s disease robbed me of my Nana before I was old enough to experience her feisty spirit and sharp humour.
The disease robbed her of a relationship with me too. By the time I turned the age of six, maybe even earlier, she was fading. She could not attend my ballet recitals or school plays and our visits were short and awkward. We knew we were to spend time together, but neither one of us had any real idea why. I was too young to appreciate or understand our connection and she was too far-gone to make sense of it.
Most of my memories involve visits to the nursing home on Sunday afternoons. Dad and I would go together. Though I wanted to see Nana, I didn’t like going to that place full of strangers who looked sad that I wasn’t there to visit them. Some residents would stretch their thin hands out toward me to tousle my hair and I knew to smile and be polite. They meant me no harm, but I was terrified. Everything smelled funny. I hated that place.
Nana had a room on an assisted living floor and my Granddad, her spouse of more than sixty years, lived on another floor upstairs. It seemed so unfair that they were separated, but Nana didn’t have a clue. When her husband would leave after visiting her room, Nana would ask my father whom that nice gentleman was.
Then she’d turn to the large window that overlooked the parking lot and say things like; “It looks like there is a storm coming in off the lake. You’d better be careful driving home.”
I would look at my Dad as if this woman had lost her marbles, but he would smile at her and say, “Don’t worry Mom, I have the car and we’ll take our time.” She would return his smile, and look at me, never questioning who I was or why he’d brought a child along, but I knew I didn’t fit in her frame of time. She would turn and look back out the window at her lake and hum a tune quietly to herself.
We would leave her there, happy in her memory, a former life of more than twenty years passed. She wasn’t in a nursing home. She was standing in front of her large window at her cottage overlooking Ril Lake, in Muskoka’s Lake of Bays. In her view was the landscape of a never-ending summer, of warm sun and motorboats, gin and tonic with friends on the porch, card games and ice cream.
Alzheimer’s took my Nana’s mind, slowly and cruelly, but it didn’t take away the imprint of her fondest place in time. Her heart held that, and her eyes could see it as clear as day.
I share this story with you because January is Alzheimer’s awareness month across Canada. I hope you will take a minute to read our section about this illness and learn the facts. Alzheimer’s is not just an elderly persons’ disease nor is it a normal part of the aging process. Know the signs. Be proactive.
Alzheimer’s took both my grandmothers, but it taught me this: love lasts longer than any memory could.
Writing has been my passion since I learned how to hold a pencil (which I still cannot do properly). Despite my father’s insistence that I would starve to death in this career, I remain well fed and eager to write more. They say you should do what you love: I love to write.