Lilah Abigail Little with her great-grandma Elizabeth Contreras Rangel (January 2, 2011)
Last night, I was talking to my grandma. Once again, she asked me if it was true that my grandpa had died.
“Mija” she starts. By the tone of her voice, I can guess what is about to follow. “ Es cierto que Nato se murio?” I always hate to tell her that it yes, it is true. My grandpa died. He died over five years ago.
My grandmother like her mother and aunts before her is suffering from Alzheimer's. What was once just quirky forgetfulness, then typical old-age forgetfulness, followed by erratic dementia, is now subtly evolving into Alzheimer's.
Unlike past conversations I have had with her, she also asks me now that I have now cooperated with her first question (she no doubt thinks we are in cahoots of some sort) if it is true that her mother also has died. This question I did not expect. It takes me by surprise and I hesitate. My great-grandmother has been dead for over a decade.
Again, I have to tell her that yes, that too, is true.
She is quiet. I hear a soft sob, but she stops. Then tells me in a quivering voice,
“Well, it is what we will all have to do one day.”
I spoke with my grandma for about 20 minutes. In that 20 minutes, she asked three times how my daughter, Savannah, was doing, if it was true my grandpa had died, and if Omega (my sister) was married. Each time she asked, it was like it was the first time she had asked. She had no memory of the first two times. It is heartbreak after heartbreak. Having to rediscover time and time again that my grandpa has passed.
This is how it is. She forgets. She remembers. Then, she forgets. One day, she will just forget. This thought is what prompted my sobbing after we hung up. My body collapsed into my soul and made my mind and heart meet again.
I am losing her.
One day, she will not be able to share in stories of past memories. One day, she will just be silent and stare. One day, she will not remember me or her grandchildren or the life we all lived under one roof at one time, one glorious time in the past when we didn’t have much, but we had each other and that was such a gift. And as I write this, I still cry. I cry with the hope of a child, that one day I could tell her that my grandpa didn’t die. That she must have been dreaming. That we all must have been dreaming. And my grandpa will walk in through the back door of the house into the kitchen. Humming. Wearing his old overalls that my grandma hates so much because they are torn and full of holes. He will tell her, “ Hello, hunny bunny.” and look at me and say, “ Mija!” and smile that beautiful smile that he shares with his eyes. And we will all sit at the table. We will drink coffee. We will eat my grandma’s tortillas. And we will laugh. We will talk about everything. The past. The present. The Bible. The grandchildren. The dumb Cowboys.
Before we hung up, she asked me one more time if it was true that my grandpa had died. After I told her once again that it was true, she said she did not know why anyone had not told her. I told her that we had, but she probably had been too tired to remember. For whatever reason, she accepted this. Then she said with such clarity that she had heard or read somewhere that memory was a gift from God. She said when we lose those we love, God still lets us keep them by being able to remember them even after he has taken them. She said, “Mija, that is why we have to be faithful to God.”
I told her that she always had been faithful to Him. She said yes, she had.
It was the most ironic thing for me to hear on so many levels in my entire life.
For many who remember my grandma, they will remember her gift for gab. You could sit with her for hours listening to her talk and never get a word in. She would tell the same stories over and over again. She loved company. She loved an audience. She had a wonderful sense of humor. You could tease her and she would tease you back, right back, always quick on the draw.
Now, she is not very chatty. You can get in a lot of words. I find myself in uncharted territory. Now, I have to develop the conversation. And now when I tease her, she only smiles. She does not often have a witty comeback. I miss that.
When she sees my children, I sense she is confused. I know she wonders why they look so grown, when to her they should still be babies. She tries her hardest to understand where the baby (Lilah) comes from, but she enjoys her company. Her eyes watch her joyfully as she plays.
In our conversation, she mentioned how my sister had visited her a while back. It was me, but I did not say so. She said that my sister came with my brother. I visited with my sons and my baby daughter. I did not mention that either. She said she knows other people came with them but could not remember who.
“ All I know, Mija, is that we had a good time. They spent the whole day with me. And we laughed a lot. “
I told her, “Good, grandma! It’s nice to have company isn’t it?”
She agreed. And told me to always remember that she loved me.
Now that is something I could never forget.