Caregiver Lyzeth Lopez shares her personal experiences with Alzheimer’s in this moving story about her grandmother’s disease.
Learn more about “The Stranger Downstairs.”
Every night at nine p.m., I find myself tucking her into bed. Frail and thin, her body stiffens, and I remind her to relax. Weighing in at just under 100 pounds, she clenches her blanket tightly. She looks up at me quickly and shuts her eyes, and I think to myself, “Was that a “thank you?”
I always seem to stand watching and searching for her old self, but all I see is a stranger. I say a little prayer, ‘I Love You,’ kiss her on her cheek and walk out.
Deep inside me, I think, “Will this be the last night?”
Esperanza Herrera Granados is her name. A short voluptuous woman with beautiful white permed, hair. Your typical old-school Hispanic woman: private, serious, stern, quiet, wise; yet caring and loving at the same time.
My memory of her involves good advice and good food. She raised 9 children on her own, working as a seamstress to put food on the table. She dedicated most of her life to child care and cleaning homes. Everyone seemed to know her and call her “abuela”, “madrina” or “tia.” Rarely was her home without visitors. Her foods attracted many, and her morning ‘menudo’ invitation was a guaranteed full house.
What happened to this strong untouchable woman? Why did this happen to her? Does she like what I’m feeding her? Is she in pain? Is she comfortable? Does she have feelings? Does she know me? Why doesn’t anybody care for her? Why won’t they visit her or call, to ask about her? Is she dead to them? These are a few of the questions that go through my head on a daily basis.
As a caregiver you find yourself questioning yourself often. You are on an emotional rollercoaster, full of rage and sadness one day, and the next feeling blessed to still have her, and being able to hug her, kiss her and smell her. Yes smell her, the only thing that still remains of the grandmother I remember, her sweet scent.
Dementia has slowly eaten her brain. She no longer speaks, no longer smiles or laughs. I feel like she is trapped. Trapped in this body that won’t let her be. My mother once said: “Maybe God gave her this disease with a purpose. Maybe he knew I wouldn’t withstand losing her all at once, and he’s taking her away from me slowly.”
Slowly it has been. This disease is slowly progressing and each stage makes me miss the stage before. I remember the night we watched her in disbelief her dancing in the kitchen with my father. The burden we felt getting dressed the year she wouldn’t allow us to wear any black colored items. Then she proceeded to throw or hide every dark colored object in our home, we often found ourselves having to go through the trash in search for our belongings. The days she would throw fits because my mother wouldn’t let her wear heels or makeup. The embarrassment we felt when she told my aunt she needed to lose some weight. I must not also forget my personal favorite, telling my father he was a nobody. We all bursted into laughter. At that moment we did not appreciate it, we thought, Why is this happening? Why is she acting like this?
If only I could get that back. If only I could hear her voice again. But, I won’t, that’s the hardest thing to swallow. I know it will only get worse. I know I should enjoy her right now, enjoy that she still eats, enjoy that she still sits up, and enjoy the fact that she still opens her eyes. If you are going through this with a loved one, know you are not alone. Enjoy the time you have with them. Don’t sit and ponder the what if’s. Time will pass and it will progress. One day they will be gone and all we will be left with is the satisfaction that we did everything we could and enjoyed every minute with them.
I know she will be gone soon. Until then I will continue to tuck her into bed, say a little prayer, ‘I Love You,’ kiss her on her cheek and walk out. Deep inside me, I will think, “Will this be the last night?”
Lyzeth Lopez is a mother to a two-year-old and one-year-old. 3rd Grade Reading and Writing teacher. Caregiver to my grandmother. Enjoying every moment.
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