It’s all over the news, stories about and tributes to Ronald Reagan. He died at 93, after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for many years.
There are many political weblogs out there, venerating and criticising his legacy as 40th President of the US. This will not be one of them.
My grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease – we found out when I was about 17 or 18 years old. My ah ma, as we called her, was all about the grandchild-coddling – none of her five granddaughters ever missed out on a fabulous home-cooked meal, nor a hand-knitted jumper. She was the lady we turned to when we (okay, I) did something stupid and needed some uncritical hugging.
So we were all quite upset when we found out that she was ill. For a while, my grandfather would bring her over to our place when he got too aggravated dealing with his increasingly-forgetful wife (he was a hard-headed bastard, but was also good in the ‘spoiling grandchildren’ department).
She always forgot to shower, but insisted she had even as she started smelling rather ripe. She would refuse to bathe, so one afternoon, after being deposited at our place, my sister and I put her in the shower and bathed her. During this time, she kept apologising for getting old and sick and not being able to take care of herself.
Not long after this, my mother managed to get a place at a nursing home for ah ma. Then there was this huge feud between my father and grandfather, and a good couple of years passed before we were ‘allowed’ to visit her at home. By this time, I was already abroad, studying at university.
My cousins live in Canada. My sister lives in the US. Visits to the grandparents were, to say the least, extremely depressing. My grandmother no longer recognised any of us, and my grandfather had had a series of small strokes and was now suffering from dementia (and it appeared, paranoia), too.
She was bedridden, and she had sores. What was left of her muscles were all stiff and bent. She looked as though she was in a constant state of befuddled shock.
I’m not proud to admit that I didn’t visit her as often as I could, simply because I couldn’t really deal with seeing her like that. Finally, in 1998, I received a call in Australia, informing me that my ah ma had passed away after breaking her hip in a fall, and no, I wasn’t to go home for the funeral.
My father, however, is a ghoulish freak. He sent me a whole album of photographs from the wake and funeral (as a bonus, I also received photos of my dead great aunt who sadly passed away in the same month). Words cannot adequately describe the skin-crawling revulsion experienced on opening that special delivery.
History repeated itself a little over a year later when my grandfather succumbed to his dementia and failing health. Also bedridden, also covered in bed sores.
“While it is an extremely sad time for Mrs Reagan, there is definitely a sense of relief that he is no longer suffering and that he has gone to another place,” said his chief of staff Joanne Drake.
I don’t care if Reagan was a good or bad President. Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease. My grandparents are no longer suffering. I have no interest in mourning their passing (the anniversaries are right about now), only in remembering:
- traditional Chinese herbs taste terrible, but the candy afterwards is worth it
- learning to play basketball on Saturday mornings
- playing Barbie in the one-of-a-kind styrofoam house
- Filet-O-Fish, plus toy, at McDonald’s
- Novenas on Saturdays
- being chatted to sleep every weekend
I miss them, I wish I could have done more for them, but this is life. We only get one shot.