The evening out with my friend was great; it felt good to catch up, laugh and spend time with each other. I’m sure we won’t let as much time pass again before meeting the next time – which was mainly my own fault anyway.
Right now, I am mentally preparing for a trip to southern Germany with my family. My paternal grandmother lives there; she’s 87 years old and has been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for a couple of years now.
The last time I met her was in spring 2008, three years ago, and she already showed heavy signs of a failing mind back then, repeating the same comment on the weather over a dozen times in just two or three minutes. Even though I’ve not been very close to her – she was unapproachable, aloof, cool; with a daunting ability to remark on one’s perceived or real shortcomings – it’s still saddening to see a mind crumble away and a familiar person connected to many childhood memories essentially turn a stranger.
It’s not the first trip south we made: actually, we only returned from the last one three weeks ago. My grandmother lives in a nursing home now and we have been emptying her flat step by step so it can be returned to the landlord in June. Another sad experience, on several levels, both watching a place I’ve known from childhood on (and that had changed very little during all that time) being torn apart and then, to spot all the manifestations of her mental disarray. The general neglect of the place, the little alterations to places in her apartment that had remained untouched for decades before. My grandfather’s plugged-in electric shaver next to his bed when he has been dead for 12 years. Pictures she cut from newspapers and pasted to the kitchen door.
Unlike the rest of the family, I have not visited her in the nursing home yet. The idea scares me, partly because of her, partly because of the other patients there. I’ve never been very good in dealing with people who exhibit erratic, unpredictable behaviour – when I was younger, even children made me feel uncomfortable. Demented people are on a whole different level and I really want to avoid the confrontation.
Also, despite our cool relationship, I want to keep a mental image of my grandmother as she was when I was younger. It’s sad enough that my most recent memory has her carrying on conversations that were non-sensical for the most parts, but I really don’t want to add to those by having recollections of her being completely out of her mind… She does not recognize most people anymore, not even my father, and is stuck in 1947 most of the time. There probably would be very little gain for her from my visit, and vice-versa.
Yet, I feel guilty for thinking this way. Guilty, selfish and self-centred. I have pretty much made my mind up about not ging to see her, even if the rest of the family will – which adds to the guilt. Nobody has given me a hard time about it so far, so maybe I should just let it go and accept it as it is… but it still feels like a burden.