AwarenessAnd there she is, like every other day, making her way through the snow and slush to the automatic doors of the building. She crosses the threshold, taking tentative steps just washed because yet another "accident" had occurred. Her clothes overwhelm her - she has lost a lot of weight this past year. Her frail form is not unlike many other people - but she is everything to one person.
That last sentence could easily be misconstrued, as it has crossed the lips of many lovers. It's so common for an individual to be caught up in a moment, or a week, or a year of lust and be convinced that their quality of life could not possibly be maintained by the loss of their significant other, because that person is "everything to them". Rarely, is this true.
Yet, sometimes it is. My grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1995. There are many myths and untruths circulating about this disease, none of which I could clarify easily for you, as I am unsure of many of the aspects of the disease myself. The one fact that I can pass onto you with confidence is that it is horrifying. The gradual loss of memory takes away every bit of the person you knew. Eventually, you die from the disease, after having forgotten how to talk, how to dress yourself, and in the end, even how to breathe. The disease progresses slowly, taking a small part of your memory each day. Years pass, and the suffering just becomes worse. If a patient is lucky, another disease will claim their lives first. Unfortunately for others, they do not receive that opportunity to die with dignity.
And that is why I say that my grandmother is everything to my grandfather. They have been victims of this disease for an unknown length of time. At this point, he has almost nothing left. He no longer lives in his condominium, but in a rented room at a retirement home. He is not allowed to possess money, because of the risk of him escaping the home. He doesn't remember his friends and his extended family, and so their love and visits are baffling to him, and so he dismisses them. With his diminished capacity, it seems as if every right he had once been guaranteed as a human being has vanished. There have been many times when I've sat and watched him stare at his hands, wondering why they are so empty, but the answer only eludes his tortured and confused mind.
My grandmother gives him the few things that he has left. Every day, she pours into him love, time, kindness, and patience. I am no longer afraid of my grandfather dying without dignity because she is his dignity. She makes him feel like the most important person in the world. She spends each day with him, forgetting about her own desires, her own needs, her own responsibilities. With her, he is once again, a person. She goes beyond the simple requirements of marriage, no matter how much it hurts her to watch him suffer each day, and to see the toll that disease takes on him.
In a society in which more than half of marriages fail, I am encouraged by a situation like this. Although it is terrible to have to see their last days together filled with such agony because of this disease, one thing that is apparent to everyone that their love is still strong. The nurses and doctors and the retirement home are so touched by their dedication to each other that they have labeled them, "Les Amoreuses". I am glad that in a world that can be so plastic and so confusing, that something so beautiful and so pure exists. It gives me hope for my generation. I know this isn't the only situation like this, and we all have tales of love in our families. In a time of such destruction with which we live in right now, I hope we can all learn from them.