Memories Live Within the Heart
I remember the first time she forgot that I was her granddaughter. And I can tell you exactly where I was sitting the last time I heard her say “I love you.” You see, I have these memories because my beautiful grandmother, Meemaw, has Alzheimer’s disease.
Meemaw has always been a beautiful, beautiful person. Not only did she make the greatest breakfast I have ever eaten, and not only did she spoil her grandchildren beyond belief, but she had, and HAS, the most amazing heart. And I can tell you I still see the beauty of her heart when I talk to her. Meemaw hasn’t been able to speak words for many years now, but she holds my hand. And she holds my cheek. And she will look into my eyes and smile. And over the years, I’ve learned to let this be enough. But to tell you the truth, I find it more genuine than many words that are spoken. When you are stripped of the ability to have a conversation of words, you are forced to communicate through other mechanisms. It’s times like this when you realize how much a smile can say and how much feeling you can receive through holding a hand.
Sometimes I feel guilty for being in New York when I know Meemaw is at home, and I don’t know the next time I will see her. Sometimes I feel as though I should be soaking up as much time as I can with her, letting her continue to inspire and teach me. But that isn’t life, and that’s certainly not what Meemaw would want. From the time I was young, she taught me strength and determination, and I feel as though she continues to teach me that even though she no longer speaks or walks.
For those of you who know me, you know that I created a dance in honor of her during my senior year of college. I did this because I don’t often talk about the sadness that comes from watching a disease take over so much of a woman I’ve admired my entire life. Dancers speak through movement. We channel our feelings into phrases that allow the emotion to seep out of our pores and lay it on the stage in front of anyone willing to watch. Even now, I won’t open up with all of my thoughts about the situation. It’s just not the way I am when it comes to Meemaw. For Meemaw, I created a dance – to tell her story, to tell our story, to bring awareness to this disease.
I’m not writing this because it’s Meemaw’s birthday or because it’s Grandparent’s Day. I’m simply writing this because it’s one of those days when I really miss her and wish I could be home to hold her hand. I’m writing this to remind you of what a beautiful person Meemaw is. And I’m writing to bring more awareness to this disease and the effects it has on so many lives.
Yes, I have those memories of Meemaw forgetting things. But I have even more memories of sitting on the porch swing, of pulling a chair to the sink to help her wash dishes, of snuggling in her lap to watch Andy Griffith, and the way she would laugh at Jay Leno. And I know Meemaw holds these memories in her heart. That was the entire purpose of the dance I created; I wanted people to realize that I believe even though people with Alzheimer’s can no longer speak, that they continue to hold these memories within their hearts. You see, this disease may have taken some things from Meemaw, but the disease will never BE her. She created a wonderful life, and these memories not only dwell in the lives she touched, but they remain in her own heart as well.
They say you can see a person’s soul through their eyes. Meemaw’s eyes still light up when I talk to her. She’s still here, even if she has Alzheimer’s.
Memories live within the heart. I firmly believe this, and I hope you do, too.
Please check out your local branch for the Alzheimer’s Association. Find out more about the disease, make a donation, and help raise awareness with me.