"Are you my kin folk?" this was the question I heard from my Grandmother time and time again. We would patiently say over and over again, I am your grandchild, your son, your daughter in law, your great grandchild or your sister. "My son died you know." would often times be heard from my grandmother to her only child. Her son who was very much alive, my father. My father would just say, "No mother I am your son, I am alive." Yet it didn't matter. Her mind told her he was dead and that was that. Somehow the wires in her mind must have mixed up the terrible car accident that she, my father and grandfather were all in many years ago, and she now thought that her son died in a car accident. Sometimes I would sit across from her and sigh and think to myself why am I even bothering to correct her as to who I am, it does not matter. So, I stopped. I would only say the first time, "Hello grandmother, it is me Michelle, your granddaughter, and here are your great grandchildren." After that what did it matter who she thought I was? It was just being that mattered now.
One cannot imagine the pain of someone you love not recognizing your face, no longer knowing your name. It is the worst disease, to have your very memories locked away, never to be found again.
Yet, somewhere in this I learned to find the good. I learned so much more from my grandmother now that her mind was gone. You just had to listen. You had to learn to ask the right questions. She was a girl again. Her parents were still living and her five sisters were all together in the old home place.
She was coming in from a hard day planting in the field with her sisters, or stuck in the house watching her youngest sister and then getting in trouble for things that her little sister had done. She talked as if these things happened yesterday. She talked of her Grandfather the minister. Of her father passing away, her mother moving them to Gulfport. Her job in the sock factory. School, walking home on the railroad tracks. Going to a dance, and what boy she liked.
Her recent memories were forever gone, but her first memories were still there. Yes, it still hurt not to have her know you anymore. Not to know that for the last ten years while she was locked in the past her great grandchildren had graduated school and college. But, we learned much from her during those years. I would hide the pain away inside and quietly cry later when no one could see.
My terror is one day losing my memories too. I often think if I write everything down now then it will at least give my family something to hang on to as to who I am now. I sometimes wonder what it is like locked away a prisoner of your own mind. Now my mind plays inside my head like a movie of memories. What happens when your thoughts are interrupted by crossed signals? Do the memories still play, or is it still and quiet? I do not think I could stand the quiet. But then I would not know.
I was grateful that she finally was able to leave the world behind and go off to a place where her mind would be free.
I love and miss my Grandmother everyday. She was 90 when she died last year. A little bit of a thing, light as a feather, with black hair that showed very little grey even at this great age. Her once sparkly grey eyes, now rheumy with age. I loved her and she loved me, that I know. That is all that ever mattered. Whether she knew me in the end was irrelevant. It was that she ever knew me at all that was most important.