written by: Veronika Dirdaite – visit her food and life blog at www.atveros.com
Growing up, my grandparents were always there for me. My grandpa shows up in most of the special memories I keep from childhood. No matter where I went or what I did, I always knew he was there for us. I knew if anything upset me or scared me, I could always hide in his big warm hug. He spent his early mornings telling me stories. He spent his summer days cutting the grass in our summerhouse and playing with me. He dedicated so many of his evenings just to play cards with me and my friends. He was always so active and wise, and he was always my hero. I remember thinking when I was little that once you meet your grandparents, they are already old and can’t get older. That was it. In my mind, my old, loving grandpa was always there, and he wasn’t going anywhere. Summers passed; many Christmases went by; school years changed, and I was growing up. Nevertheless, one thing never grew out of me: When I felt weak or a little bit sad, I was always grabbing a phone and calling my grandpa. Still, he was the person I turned to. Of course, when I became a teenager, I actually wanted to spend more time with my friends. I wanted to discover my first love, and I was just too busy with my life. That’s when my calls and visits got a little bit shorter, and more rare. No matter what and no matter how often I would show up, he was always happy to see me. We were mutually joyful when we could spend at least one day together.
He was actually very good in asking and remembering things. He was always getting straight to the point, and he always knew what I was doing at certain stages of my life. Then, one day, my grandma called and said, “There is something weird happening with your grandfather, he is forgetting things and doing some random stuff around the house.” They went to the doctor. Another call followed, “It is the second stage of Alzheimer’s.” This was the moment I grew up faster than ever, and I understood that life isn’t always what you plan it to be. As fast as my life changed and I needed to focus on my future, I also needed to see him more often. From little things such as apartment keys left in the fridge to him crying because he was trying to say something and was unable to express himself anymore, the illness started developing faster.
Alzheimer’s is an illness that affects the environment of others around you much more than you have ever wished. That part was hardest on my grandfather. From being a strong man who could always take care of everyone, he was slowly disappearing and getting weaker and weaker. One day he called me and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” He passed away peacefully in hospital, after four years of living with the disease. However, although it took away my loving man’s happy ending, it left us with much more self-awareness and lessons that shaped me into the person I am today.
Dear Alzheimer’s, you are not the nicest experience ever, and you know it. Nevertheless, I say thank you for showing up in our family and these are the reasons why:
You taught me the importance of now
While dealing with illness and not knowing what happens tomorrow, I was enjoying those moments when I could sit, talk, grab a piece of cake and just simply be with my grandpa. Those simple memories became some of the most precious ones, and I will probably carry them with me forever.
You taught me to slow down
When talking to someone with Alzheimer’s, I couldn’t do anything else but try to take things slow and be patient. When he needed to do simple things, like moving or eating, I learned there is no reason to hurry, and I gave him his time. Otherwise, I could make him angry.
You taught me the importance of showing up.
No matter how much I could call or how many good intentions I may have had, sometimes just baking a cake and showing up for my grandpa was what actually made our time more valuable.
You taught me the importance of making good memories
Even if my grandpa couldn’t remember what he ate the day before, his childhood memories were very strong. Just showing him some old albums from his past could make him feel much better. I realized that no matter how bad his situation was at that time, there was always a good laugh and good memories to be made.
You taught me to follow my dreams
No matter what, we all are dying one day. Seeing my grandpa smiling when remembering all the things he did was precious. One day he even told me, “I wish I had more courage to do more.”
You taught me every day is important
It was the little moments of joy I appreciated most when my grandfather was going through his illness.
You taught me love is perfect by being imperfect
While he could still think reasonably, my grandpa knew his disease was horrible. He thought it harmed our family, but actually it showed us that no matter what happens, the most important things stand somewhere beyond normal living.
Life is for taking care of each other, supporting each other, overcoming things together and still being able to laugh together. This is the true definition of love.
At the end of the day, all we have is who we are, right?
Maybe you do not feel like you are doing something very important in your life at this moment, but Alzheimer’s has shown me that the little things you do every day may be the most important in your future. We just need to live it up and stop taking things too seriously.