by Christina Rose Graham
The day was gloomy as if the clouds were crying and the thunder was screaming out for help. I remember sitting there wondering, were they talking to me? At that point in my life I was lost and searching for myself but did not want to be found. I sat there and started to reflect on my whole life. Up until the age of five I lived in San Antonio with my mom, dad, and my grandpa. Most of the time it was just me and my grandpa since my mom and dad worked a lot to give us a great life.
My everyday life always revolved around him which is why he was such a big part of my life. He took me to the first day of kindergarten and picked me up with a juice and snack. He played with me on the swing set in the backyard and taught me how to dance by the tiles on the floor. His laughter was so warm that it lit up any room. The best part of the day would be when he would let me style his hair while he watched television. He was the best grandpa that I could ever ask for. Seeing him and spending time with him was like getting presents on Christmas morning or candy on Halloween.
Everything changed at the age of five when I was told that we would be moving to Houston without him. I never imagined it would hurt the way that it did. I missed my grandpa so much and everything reminded me of him. My parents told me that we would visit him a lot but at that age all I knew was that my grandpa was not around.
It did not take a long time for him to move on with his life. He quickly got a girlfriend and she did not like me or my mom. He decided that it was in his best interest to please her and what pleased her was not having any contact with us. As a child I understood that he was busy but that did not stop me from looking for a letter in the mailbox every day. Instead of a card or a letter all I ever received was a broken heart. Some years I was lucky and he came to family functions, but it just was not the same anymore. The distance between us continued to grow for about nine years. He would only come around once in a while. When we would call, his girlfriend would grab the phone and hang up. I could not wait for the day that he would open his eyes and realize that we were his family and he was doing the wrong thing. My mom always told me not to worry about it because he did not know what he was missing. In my mind, I thought he did and he just did not think that we were anything special.
My mom was right though. When I was fourteen years old my grandpa called her and said that he needed somewhere to live. His girlfriend had gotten sick and her family was going to put her into a nursing home. I was so mad that he would even think that we would take him into our home. After everything he did to us, did he really expect us to welcome him with open arms? My mom asked me what I thought and I told her that I did not want him to move in with us. She decided that he just wanted to come because he did not have his girlfriend anymore and told him that he could not come to live with us. After a long talk with my mom, my aunt decided to take my grandpa into her house even though she was not happy about it. What I had never realized was that when my grandpa pushed me out of his life, he pushed everyone else out as well. My aunt was trying to make him comfortable and make the best out of the situation, but I did not think that it was going to work. He was used to living one way and she, another way. There was no way that she was going to compromise in her own home for someone that did not want to be there.
We never visited during this time so I have no idea what happened to them. All I know is that when I was sixteen years old my mom got a call that turned my whole world upside down. My grandpa had been thrown into a nursing home and called my mom nervous, crying and scared. She ran, got into the car and headed to San Antonio to pick him up right away. At that point in my life I really did not care what happened one way or another. I had lost the feelings that I once had for my grandpa. My mom yelled at my aunt and uncle because she could not believe that they would do that without even telling her. She told them that they should be ashamed of themselves. That was their dad, and she would never understand how they could live with themselves knowing what they had done. I felt really sorry for him, but that did not change how I felt about everything that had happened.
We set him up his own room at our house once we got all his stuff from San Antonio. Still so mad and hurt with him, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with him. Every time I looked at him it reminded me that he left and chose a woman over his own family. I resented him for a long time. I did anything that I could not to go home. On school nights I would stay out until about three in the morning from just driving around Houston because I did not want to be anywhere he was. I ended up making friends with people who I thought were my best friends and clung to them for dear life. This “new family” opened up a whole new world that allowed me to get involved with drugs and alcohol.
My life, as I saw it, was going fine. That all changed when my mom asked me one to join her in taking my grandpa to the doctor and even though I did not want to, I agreed. Suddenly at seventeen everything would change when I found out that my grandpa had dementia. When I heard that, my heart broke into pieces and I felt it would never be put back together. The tears flowed as if a river was flooding from deep in my soul. I looked into my mom’s eyes and I could just see the darkness in them as she was clearly feeling the same. At that moment, hearing that news, all the color in her life turned black and white.
Dementia, one little word changed everything. Guilt rushed over me for never wanting to spend time with him or talk to him. I asked my mom what dementia really meant and what would happen. She told me that he would slowly start losing his memory and that little things he did were going to be hard for him. In that moment as I sat there with the guilt overpowering me, I knew that I had spent years doing the wrong thing. I spent so much time being mad at him that I had lost the chance to make memories. Memories I could have remembered for the both of us. In reality, the most painful thing was going to be that I missed out on so much time and that one day he may not even remember who I am.
That night I knew that I had to change and that it was time that I turned my life around. I needed to be there for him and my mom no matter what. For the next couple of weeks I kept thinking that there had to be some kind of mistake or that something could fix it, but I was wrong. I was determined to find some way to fix it and I could not. At first, he was just forgetting if he got the mail or put a bag in the trash bag. We never thought anything of it because even I sometimes forget those type of things.
Things slowly got worse from there on. He would just ask me questions a couple of times in a row. He would ask where my mom was, what time was she getting home, where did she work, and did she even live with us. That could have lasted anywhere from five minutes to thirty minutes of me just repeating the same answer. He would get mad at me because I gave him the wrong answer and the next time I would just change my response. I did this for him so that he could be happy. He was in that stage for a good six months before he got worse.
The next stage that he went through was just forgetting little things like if he ate lunch or if he had taken the dog out for the day. He would end up taking the dog out twenty times in an hour just because he could not remember that he already had done it. Since he did not believe that he had already eaten, he could eat six small meals a day. Never trusting anything that we told him made life hard. When I would tell him that he had already eaten he would get very angry and start to yell. Some days I would have to get up at three in the morning to make him something to eat. That stage lasted about a year.
He got to the point where he got in his car trying to go to the bank around the corner and ended up lost in Pearland, TX. The police called us because they found our contact information that we left in his wallet and said that they would be driving him home and to please meet them there. When we got there we explained to them what happened and they understood and were very nice about it. At that point I was already attending college so I decided to change my schedule so that I would go to school at night. I then could watch him all day and my mom could at night, that way he would never be alone and never wander off.
These days it is not so easy because I have to remind him to shower, eat, and even get dressed sometimes. He does not know how to write anymore, and sometimes forgets English. He will go in and out of not knowing who I am or who my mom is, but the days he remembers are very nice. Every day I have to give him insulin four times a day and make sure that he takes his pills.
To make sure he does not try to drive or walk off, I have to watch over him very carefully. I have to get up in the middle of the night when he is confused and searching for people that have died forty and fifty years ago. It is such a huge responsibility. It is such a hard job to do. It consists of having to keep doing it and keep trying until he will listen. I have to chase him around the house so that he will listen to me. When he needs to shower I have to start the water and bribe him to shower. I have to put his food in front of him so that he can remember he ate. I take pictures so that I can show him that he has eaten. If I do not he gets mad and thinks that I do not want to go into the kitchen and cook for him.
Every day I have to search for hidden items so that he will calm down and stop getting so worked up about the little things. I never realized that it would be this hard. Even with all the challenges that comes with taking care of him I would not change it for one second. I sit back and look at him; I see the grandpa that I grew up with. He is fun, loving, caring, and such a sweet man. He may never again be able to have memories, but he is giving me more every day and I will cherish them forever. He has changed my life. I have to do well and not ruin my life, because I would be leaving him and that is something that I cannot do.
Today I strive to be a better person than I was yesterday. Looking at him he makes me want to accomplish everything that I have always wanted to do. When I want to give up, he makes me hold on just a little longer. When I think that I have no purpose in life I remember how much he depends on me and needs me. Most people would think it is too much work, but I just think about how lucky I am that I get more time with him. All the times he forgets who I am are worth it for those days where he remembers me and I get my old grandpa back. I never expected my life to be like this nor in a million years did I ever think that the one person who I thought made my life miserable would end up saving it. Every single day he saves it, just by being who I always needed him to be: My Grandpa.