It’s not funny, but my granddad travels more now that he’s in an assisted living home than he has in the past 10 years.
In his mind.
When we call, he tells us how he just got back from a baseball game, or just finished 18 holes with friends that passed away years ago. Or fishing. He loves going fishing.
My granddad has dementia and the illness is not kind.
He’s often confused about where he is and why he’s there. He doesn’t remember our visits five minutes after we’ve stepped out of the door, but is always thrilled to see us. He doesn’t know that my niece, Evaline, is his great-granddaughter, but he’s convinced that she’s the most beautiful child that he’s ever seen.
This is heartbreaking because I know that he’s slipping further and further back into time, back to memories of a time before I was even born.
But the illness has given him one gift. He’s reliving moments that make him happy and he’s even creating new ones; his mind is giving him experiences that his body no longer can.
While I’m not wishing dementia on anyone, it does make me stop and think. What if I could only live through the memories that I’ve made in the past 30 some-odd years? What places would I revisit in my mind? Which days would I relive to pass the time? Would I tell my visitors how I kayaked in New Zealand, or relive a morning walk with my friends? Would I describe diving in Cozumel, or would I talk about the sunset I’d just seen slipping over the Gulf of Mexico, a cold beer in hand?
I started writing this post several weeks ago, after a visit with my grandfather. The last time that I saw him, he was having a really good day–he recognized me and my mom, we talked about the family and what everyone was up to. He was in good spirits and seemed really happy.
My mom called me on Tuesday and said that Papa had taken a bad turn; he’s not doing well. Hospice has been called in and I’m dreading the next call–the one that tells me that I need to get on an airplane and fly home.
But here’s the point to this post (and my ramblings): make memories. Treasure them. Little ones, big ones, short ones, long ones, colorful and vibrant and laugh-inducing memories.
Life is about the people you meet and love, the foods you try and the out of tune karaoke songs. It’s the lazy days on the couch with a good book and the late nights on the phone when you can’t remember what you talked about for two hours. It’s the first time you tried gelato and the when you thought that blob of wasabi was a vegetable.
Cherish your memories and make lots of new ones. You never know when you might need a memory to curl up with, to let you sit on that beach in Thailand with a Singha or simply amble around the garden with your dog.
I’m lucky I have the memories that I have of my granddad. Perhaps later tonight, before I go to sleep, we’ll sit and talk about golf or when he had shore leave in New York during World War II or my grandmother. Who, though she passed away in 1999, is still the most beautiful woman in the word to him.
Because it’s the memories that matter.