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FIRST PERSON / CAMILLE SUMAN

Grandma's Alzheimer's Afflicts Family

August 09, 1992|CAMILLE SUMAN | Camille Suman, 17, graduated this month from Fountain Valley High School and will attend Ricks College in Rexburg, Ida., where she will major in graphic design, assisted by a scholarship from the school's art department. She lives in Santa Ana with her family

"Is it time for dinner?"

"Yes, Grandma," I reply. "Here is your dinner and your pills you need to take."

"Dinner already? It is only 2 in the afternoon."

"No, Grandma, it is 6 p.m., and you need to eat your dinner."

"Where are all the children?"

"We are all here, Grandma."

"Well, I will scoot down to the end so the children will have room."

"No, Grandma, your place is right here, and I wish you would come eat your dinner."

"I'm not hungry," she says, getting up and walking over to the cupboard. She has forgotten that she already has a place set for her at the table, so she begins looking through all the cupboards for plates, cups and silverware. She grabs a fork out of the drawer and begins polishing it with her sweat shirt.

There she stands, small and frail, slightly bent over. Her gray roots are just beginning to show under the blond curls. Under her white sweat shirt, I can see the collar of a pink shirt and a blue flowered dress that she has tucked into her pants. She had forgotten to take the dress off when she realized it wasn't Sunday.

Her navy polyester pants are snug around her waist and hang almost to the ground. Her feet are squeezed into a pair of tan sandals from the '70s, and she has a run in her nylons starting from her big toe.

It's not that we never buy her new clothes. We have many times, but she forgets that they are hers and refuses to wear them.

Grandma just stands there polishing her fork, forgetting anyone else is in the room. Her eyes look as if she is in another place. I know her mind is tired of thinking, forgetting and trying to remember again.

Alzheimer's disease is a difficult thing. It is hard for my dad to see his mom so confused and sometimes bitter and rude. It is also hard for my mom because my grandma is home with her all day. She follows my mom around, undoing things Mom has just finished doing.

My grandma waits for the mailman to come, then puts bills into her purse, thinking they are hers. She puts dirty dishes in the cupboard, hides our shoes, and takes the unfinished laundry out of the dryer and puts it out to dry on tables and chairs.

One of the saddest days was when my grandma had been wandering around the house all day. Finally, she let out a sigh and said: "Nothing to do, there is simply nothing to do." Sad because it was true; she really didn't have anything to do. She is too sick to work, and when she starts a project, she doesn't finish it because she forgets what she is doing.

The other day my grandma got upset and said she was going back to Arizona. This is where her house is, but she can't live alone any longer. She had forgotten this and began packing her things.

I watched her as she grabbed her nightgown and laid it out on the bed. Then she took a few shirts and a couple of pairs of pants and stuffed them into the nightgown, using it as a duffel bag. She carefully tied a knot at the bottom of the nightgown. It took her total concentration to tie a perfect knot.

I studied her face. I still remember the way it looked--her pale, wrinkly skin; bony nose, and the small, light sunspot she had on the end of it. Her lips were pressed together in concentration. Her hands were thin, and a few veins showed under the sun-spotted skin.

I wanted to leave because the sight of her working so hard, only to have someone undo what she had done, made me sad. But I decided to stay because I knew she enjoyed my company even though I hadn't said a single word.

She walked over to the dresser, picked up a magazine and handed it to me. She looked up at me and told me that I could have her magazine since she was sure that the bus back to Arizona would have magazines for her. She began talking about something--I can't remember what, but it made no sense. I quietly slipped out of the room and could still hear her talking as I walked down the hall.

Thinking back, my grandma was the kindest lady. When I visited, she would always have food prepared and a bed ready for me. She was smart and made good decisions. She raised three children. But she is no longer the person I knew when I was little. I guess I could say the grandma I used to know is already dead. This is a new person I am getting to know.

As my grandma finishes polishing the fork, she walks back to the table with a look of accomplishment. She sits down as if nothing had happened and says: "Oh, is it time for dinner already?"

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