Essay: To His Granddaughter
i. Stage 1
It starts with the little things – nothing special. You tell yourself it’s only natural to become forgetful with age, that you too forget where you place your house keys from time to time. It’s perfectly normal. You tell yourself that. And you repeat it every time.
But it becomes obvious. Too obvious for you to lie to yourself. You begin noticing the way he talks less and less. The way his lips begin to open and pause, frantic at first then slowing to silently open and close like trapped fish gulping for air. His mouth unable provide the means through which his thoughts desperately wish to escape.
When you come home, he takes a while to remember you. He grasps for reminders of you, of your name. But to him the reminders are dandelion seeds scattered by the callous winds of age to expose the stems to vulnerably decompose.
The signs are everywhere as he goes about his day. You find him wandering dark hallways trying to find the washroom, attempting to find rooms in a home that has sheltered him for more than four decades. Even the simple living room becomes an intricate labyrinth in which he must constantly run his fingers along the walls not to lose his grounded feet.
You analyze his movements, zero in on the way he circles around the furniture looking for the remote control he unknowingly grips in his hand.
You watch Grandmother begin to understand the signs, watch her start unpacking the musky cardboard box, desperate to retrieve even a sliver of what had been, anything at all.
And soon you observe that his eyes are dim lights, flickering with no focused strength. Only fluttering alert when you gently shake his arm to remind him that you are still there – that he is still here.
ii. Stage 2
You begin in the dead of night when no one will hear your fingers hesitantly typing against the keyboard to input the dreaded letters.
Many nights you stop there. Or sometimes you might continue until your heavy eyes demand reprieve from the glaring computer screen. You hurry into bed, placing your forearm over your eyes, ignoring the tightening sensation in your throat that has begun to form. But this will not happen every day because somedays you might not feel anything, your own brain feeling as unfurnished and barren as his has become.
One morning, something will be wrong, very wrong. So, you reach out and grab his hand, only to realize the source of his afflictions has finally revealed itself, rearing its ugly, foul head. It is as if you are watching the very reversal of mitosis occurring inside his decaying brain. Cell death has progressed for the last seven years, eating away at memories of his childhood, of his marriage, of his children, of you. His dying cells like foam dissipating against the surface of water to release the few remaining reminders of his life.
Tell me your name. It becomes a ritual for you to ask the same questions over and over again. Too often, you are scared you’ll break something. Your patience runs thin, your threshold cracking like the thinning ice of a springtime thaw. Tell me your name again. How old are you? Where do you live? No, say the address.
iii. Stage 3
You mutely eye your grandfather as he lies in the master bedroom with eyes searching the ceiling above him for something you cannot see. When you make a noise, he turns toward you. But there is blankness in his eyes when he stares at you, through you.
He is no longer able to do much on his own; the disease has progressed for far too long. The condition will have thrown him in a lonely place; a place where grandfather has absolutely no control over the parts of his own body, a place where his last moments are like his first.
By winter, there is not much left to be forgotten, and he will cease to forget only when there remains nothing to be forgotten.
You will be scared of visiting. But please remember that he is scared of loneliness. You won’t know how to approach him when the doctor issues the official finding. The final diagnosis. The one nobody – no fortune tellers, no psychics, no Gods – will refute.
iv. Final Stage
By winter, you will also come to terms with the real diagnosis of his disarray. Your personal disarray will gradually diminish to round out this trial of error and missteps. By then, you will wish for a miracle as the last snow dusts down to his resting figure under the covered porch, even as you talk to his resting form to become more certain of his fading.
But perhaps, he will listen and grant you an ephemeral moment in which his resting form will glance back to smile lazily and call your name—the way he used to. Not your grandmother’s name, not your mother’s name, but yours – his granddaughter’s.