By Aimee Chiavaroli
When I was in high school my paternal grandmother saved me her golden locket necklace. It’s a two-dimensional circle with an indented ‘A’ on one side from when she put a bite mark in it. She got the necklace from her mother or grandmother when she was a little girl and she passed it down to me because my first initial is ‘A,’ too. She put a piece of her hair inside the locket when she gave it to me, but it eventually fell out. She included a letter with it, saying she hopes I’ll wear the locket and think of her. And sometimes I do.
The locket reminds me of when I used to stay at her house in Braintree when my grandfather was still alive. My mom worked part time and my dad worked full time, so my mom would take my older brother, Matt, and me to their house after school. They made sure we got our homework done and then they’d let us watch Edward Scissorhands or play Yahtzee. They always had hard candy around the house – usually green peppermints or Werther’s Originals. Being Italian, they cooked us spaghetti and meatballs with the best homemade sauce that Matt and I can remember.
This was before my grandmother had Alzheimer’s or dementia – words my family won’t say. One day I was over my aunt’s house in Abington, where my grandmother lives, and she forgot my name and how we were related. This scared me but my family didn’t make a big deal of it or didn’t act concerned. I went home and cried in my room. I didn’t know anyone else with this disease.
To add to things, she can’t walk around by herself. Since she broke her hip, she needs a walker or someone’s support to get around. Sometimes she doesn’t think that she needs her walker or your help so she’ll push you away because she’s stubborn. She can’t dress herself or go to the bathroom by herself. Sometimes she brushes her hair with a toothbrush. My dad wakes up around five every morning to go to my aunt’s house, after coming home from work at midnight, to get Grammie out of bed and dressed. He gets her a muffin or donut and a coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts every morning. He’ll usually visit her another time during the day before work. I admire him for this because I know how hard it can be.
Over the summer, my dad asks me to babysit Grammie until around dinner time when he would probably finish his plastering job, a side job, at someone’s house. He’ll pay me and all I have to do is talk to her, watch TV with her, and make her lunch. Easy enough. I bring my knitting and my laptop over to keep myself busy. We sit there watching boring day time shows on TLC and Home TV. We watch ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ and shows featuring home renovations. We watch ‘Four Weddings’ and I ask Grammie what she thinks of the women’s dresses. It gets old after a few hours. For lunch I make her a grilled cheese, and like my eight year old brother, she gives about half of it to the dogs.
I make conversation with her by asking what she’s been doing or if she’s been watching the baseball games. She says she’s been working a lot and hasn’t been watching the games. What else do I say? There isn’t much to talk about because she doesn’t remember anything, or maybe there’s more to talk about, because you can ask her anything, only her response will be made up. I ask her if she has to go to the bathroom often because I don’t want her to forget and wet herself, even though she’s wearing a diaper.
I ask her if she wants to get up and walk around. She wants to see where my aunt’s dogs went because they left the room. I lift her by her underarms to help her stand up out of the chair. I have to force her to use her walker because she doesn’t think she needs it. She complains that I’m treating her like a baby. She doesn’t need my help and can do it on her own.
I walk her through the kitchen and through the computer room. When we pass the staircase, she wants to go up to look for them, but she physically can’t. We get to the next room, the living room, where the dogs are sitting on the rug. She coaxes them to come back into the other room with us. When I help her walk, she gets mad at me. She thinks that she doesn’t need my help. I fight with her, because without my help she’ll fall. She doesn’t want to listen to me.
When I finally get her to go back to the living room to sit in the chair, she’s furious. She’s mad at me for helping her. She yells at me to go home. The boss is gonna be so mad when she comes home and sees that you’re still here. She’s gonna kick you out when she gets here. Just go home already. I laugh about it and play along because that’s what my parents usually do. Grammie, is Auntie Carol the boss? She won’t care if I’m here. She knows I’m here to visit you. Grammie’s persistent. She thinks I did something wrong and that I’m not listening to her. She wants me to leave.
My cheeks turn red hot and I fight back tears. There is nothing I can do to reassure her. I call my dad in a panic while she yells in the background. I tell him that Grammie is freaking out. He says, Aimee, what did you do? I didn’t do anything. I tried to help her. He tells me not to cry because it’ll only make her more upset but I can’t help it. I put her on the phone with him like he asks me to. He tells her to stop being mean to me and to stop yelling at me. I’m back on the phone with my dad and he says he’ll be over soon. She eases up but I want to leave.
My mom, dad, and younger brother finally arrive. They sit down with Grammie and me in the living room. My dad says asks her why she was being mean to me and she says I was being bad. My dad tells her to apologize to me and she gives me a hug. I grab my things and head out the door. My dad and my younger brother stay while my mom brings me home. I cry on the way home and then again when I get upstairs to my room. My mom asks me if there’s any way she can help me, but there really isn’t. She just tells me that that’s how Grammie is sometimes and that she gets angry with my dad all the time.
Was this really my Grandmother? She was there, but not in her head. My dad pushes me to visit her because she’s 92 and probably doesn’t have that much longer, but I’m always hesitant. Sometimes I think she’ll get mad at me again. Even though she forgets what happened that day, I’ll never forget it. I try to put it behind me and laugh with my mom when she tells me a story about Grammie and says well it’s not really funny but you gotta laugh. I’ve learned to roll with it and laugh, but in the back of my mind I’m reminded of how sad it is.
She’s never going to go back to the way she was, but I’ll always have the gold locket to remind me of my real grandmother and the time I spent with her before this disease consumed her.