Sunday, June 16 2024 - 2:49 PM
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My Grandpa

I was in eighth grade when my grandpa got Alzheimer’s after his open-heart surgery. The first signs of his Alzheimer’s were hallucinations. It started right after his heart surgery when he thought he saw Green Berets scaling the hospital walls. Then he thought he saw an alligator, but after a few seconds said, “Wait, no. There aren’t any alligators in Yakima.”

This took a toll on my entire family, especially me since we were really close. Grandpa had always been there to support us when we needed him. Also, he helped fill that fatherly role for me when my dad couldn’t be there because he was working out of state.

The hallucinations improved for a month or two, and then he began to spiral. At times he would forget my grandma, his wife, and lock himself in their bedroom, saying, “I don’t know you! Where’s my wife?”

At this point, we had to move him into a care facility. My mother would visit him daily. As I was still in school, I could not see him as often as I would have liked to.

Visit With Grandpa

Once June came, I had the opportunity to go to Wisconsin for a week-long camping trip where different groups from all over the world came together. Before I left, I saw my grandpa with my mom and dad. He was really bad by now. He couldn’t move around independently and hardly ever opened his eyes or interacted with anyone, but he never once forgot my mom throughout his whole sickness.

When we visited with him, one of the workers helped him into a reclining chair. He was wearing his favorite jean overalls and a flannel shirt like he always wore, but that was the only familiar thing about him. Where he was now, in this assisted living home, all I could see were older people waiting to die. My mom stood beside Grandpa, and I sat on my dad’s lap across from him. As we all got settled, my mom said to him, “Hey, Dad, look who came to see you. It’s Elizabeth.”

Hearing my mom’s voice, he shifted his head slightly, peeked open one eye at me, and grinned. This was a big deal because he didn’t react anymore, almost like he was just a hollow shell of the man he used to be.

My Trip

After this, I headed off on my trip.

My grandpa passed away halfway through my trip, and I had no idea because we kids weren’t allowed to have electronics with us. My mom knew how close my grandpa and I were, so she made sure anyone who found out didn’t tell me because she didn’t want it to ruin my trip.

It wasn’t until I returned home that I learned my grandpa had passed away.

I had a friend staying with us for a while after the trip, so for some privacy, my parents took me into their bedroom to tell me. I broke down crying. This was the last thing I expected to hear. I felt guilty that I had so much fun while my family remained back home, mourning my grandfather’s loss. Because of this guilt, I isolated myself from my family for a while. But soon, I realized that my behavior was helping no one. I was home and could support my family while they also supported me.

Someone Is There

Looking back, I realize how fortunate I was to witness some response from my grandpa before I left on my trip. That final acknowledgment might not have been a formal goodbye, but it provided me some closure.

I may not have my whole family together anymore, but I know that I will always have my parents, friends, and other family members to help and support me. I realized during this time that everyone needs to have people watch your back and pick you up when you’re down. Even if you feel alone, there is always someone there who loves you and is willing to do this for you. It could be a family member, a friend, or even God. All you need to do is reach out to them.

If you liked this, you might also like Temporary | Grieving the Death of a Grandparent 

Elizabeth Long writes from the Pacific Northwest.

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About Elizabeth Long

Elizabeth Long

writes from the Pacific Northwest.

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