Inspired by Mitch Albom’s popular memoir “Tuesdays with Morrie”, I made sure I visited granny on Tuesdays, just so that I could write this entry.
Just kidding. *insert monkey emoticon*
The truth of the matter is, I coincidentally spend my Tuesdays with my granny. You see, I love her to bits and have a regular routine of seeing her now that I am back in Singapore for a while. Because of my blessed lifestyle (unfortunately not for much longer), I have been having the privilege of spending random Tuesday afternoons with her. Being able to spend quality time together while the rest of the world busy themselves with weekday errands is a true blessing.
I usually make my way to granny’s at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. We spend around 2 hours together, until it’s time for her dinner in the evening.
Granny is almost 95 years old now (her birthday is coming up in 2 weeks’ time). She has a waifish figure, skinny and shrunken, only that she has an abundance of semi-grey hair. With her oversized pyjamas drooping over her petite frame, and skin drooping over her bones, you can hardly see any muscles left in her well-weathered physical body. It’s no wonder that she now sleeps in an assisted living bed, needs a wheelchair to bring her to places and relies on diapers to manage her daily defecation.
Granny also has dementia. She was first diagnosed with it 2.5 years back, when a freak accident she encountered had us sending her to the hospital for an operation. Doctors saw signs of her brain deterioration, something that was hard for me to initially swallow. It’s ironic that a lady who never used to forget any of her grandchildren and children’s names and birthdays would suffer from the mysterious gradual loss of consciousness. But I’ve now come to accept that our bodies have timelines and such is the journey of life.
On most days, granny is taking her afternoon nap when I arrive at hers. She will be lying horizontally in bed, face up, eyes closed, often with one palm stacked on top of the other on her tummy. She always looks like a metaphor for silence and stillness, as if the world around her stopped and everything has slowed down for a while. That is if she’s not having one of her extremely tired days – on those days, whizzing snores will be escaping through her half agape mouth, a sight that always gives me the unexplainable tickles.
It’s often hard to tell if granny is aware of what’s happening around her. We inform her that we are here to visit and she always acknowledges. We ask if she’ll like to sit up and have a cup of water in the living room and she always says yes. We transfer her to the wheelchair and bring her out to the living room. She sits quietly with her eyes closed, sometimes with her head drooping forward like she’s asleep. We ask her a few questions, sometimes she answers and sometimes she doesn’t. No one is entirely sure if she is registering anything at all. We are aware that she has difficulty hearing now, but many things remain an enigma.
I spend the next couple of hours reading a book, watching TV (but it’s just me watching since her eyes aren’t open), holding her arm, or just doing nothing by her side.
It’s a bittersweet feeling. Words often fail me when I attempt to articulate my sensations.
On some days, I feel sad. My eyes become watery whenever I witness my once highly energetic and spirited granny barely having an ounce of energy left in her body. I sentimentally recall the days we had random conversations about everything and nothing, how she was always trying her mighty best to make sense of my world and being supportive of everything I do. She was my rock. But now, she is just drifting in and out of her own world.
On other days, I am at peace. I am happy that I get to spend another afternoon with her. I accept the frailty of our bodies and how life is truly a cycle.
However, there are certain unique days we call her “hyperactive days”. These days are far and few – they come unexpectedly without any forecasts and you have no idea how long each period will last. They can range from a few hours to a few days.
I relish these hyperactive days. They are magical for me because the granny I miss and know will be back.
Just last Tuesday, granny had an incredibly hyperactive day.
On these days, granny will be as strong as an ox. I often wonder where she finds all that strength in that tiny, feeble body of hers. When I first saw her that Tuesday, she was using her arm and body strength to sit herself up on her bed while proclaiming to the world that she wanted to get up and do some exercises because it’s better for the body. While that created much distress for her caregiver because falling out of bed was a very possible immediate consequence, I couldn’t help but watch my granny in awe. Because wow, granny is back.
Before granny had her first grievous fall 10 years back that left her unable to do many physical activities, she was as fit as a fiddle and made it a point to exercise every morning. I remembered jogging around the living room, doing morning stretches and back bends with her as a child. She was also extremely active, often moving from place to place, visiting people and family members to stay in touch with them. Granny always advocated a healthy lifestyle. She always told us that morning exercises are important. Sometimes, I suspect I got my monkeyish and sporadically hyperactive genes from her.
On that particular hyperactive Tuesday, I told her I was here to visit and she responded, “Have you been obedient? You must be an obedient child and listen to your mummy and papa.”
Hearing that statement triggered a wave of emotions in me. Next thing I knew, my body flooded with that old sense of familiarity and nostalgia. Wow, granny is back.
Those were the exact same words my grandmamma had been telling me for countless years, whether I was a child or a woman. Having brought me up, she was well acquainted with my character and knew of my stubborn and rebellious streak, an unfortunate horror to my parents.
For the rest of the day, I watched my granny operate in fascination.
Granny talked and talked. She has always been a conversationalist, and on her hyperactive days she will be back talking in her full prowess. Miraculously, she was also fully aware of what was happening around her and spoke like she never had this weird condition called Dementia.
She spoke of people, places and things. She recalled every single one of them as if time never passed in her dimension. She asked how specific people were doing, how their jobs were treating them, if they were doing fine. She spoke about the quirks of people whose names I had never heard of, and I later learnt from my mother that those were old family friends from the Strathmore Road neighbourhood my family used to live in before I was born. It is interesting as her memory seemed to have ended somewhere earlier in timeline – she still thinks that I am working as a flight attendant, a job I held more than a decade ago.
She laughed, chatted and sometimes her eyes lit up as if she saw wondrous things. It is riveting to watch because according to the doctors, granny can hardly see a thing now because of advance corneal degeneration.
Sometimes she frowned and got peeved, complaining that the room was too dark and she could hardly see a thing. She kept asking us to switch the lights on. At one point, she thought that perhaps there was a power failure and the lights were not working, so she asked us to light candles instead. Even at the most unanticipated instances, granny is painfully adorable.
I was carefully observing granny throughout the whole time, witnessing the myriad change of emotions through her cataract-filled eyes. From moments of annoyance because she wanted to see but couldn’t, to moments where her eyes welled up with tears, possibly because she was upset she couldn’t get what she wanted and it must have felt miserable to be living in darkness. And then to moments she softened her gaze, as if she had accepted things as they were. She has done her best, and this is the best for now.
There were other moments she saw breathtaking sights that none of us did. Once granny excitedly exclaimed to me, “Look at those beautiful flowers on the tree!” and pointed her finger up in the air (I have to admit that I was initially spooked out). I entered her world and asked her what the colours of the flowers were. She enthusiastically replied like a 5-year-old, “White!” Her eyes lit up like fairy lights, her facial muscles lifted and she was beaming from ear to ear.
Granny looked so beautiful, precious and childlike. My heart melted into a pile of goo.
We “ohhh-ed” and “ahhh-ed” together as we admired those flowers, and it lasted for as long as it was meant to be. Then the moment suddenly departed without any signals, and granny was back to her detached self. We are off to a new chapter and page, as if those flowers never existed before.
Our cerebrums work in the strangest of ways. Ever since granny was diagnosed with dementia, I had been reading and loading up on whatever I could find in an attempt to better understand what my granny is going through. But the more I read, the deeper I dove into the unknown. I have now come to accept that the brain is one strange organ that perhaps even neuroscientists cannot comprehend completely. And until we are in that stage of deterioration ourselves, we will never fully empathise what the patients are going through.
Granny has always been a wonderful teacher in my life. Even moments like these with her made me learn so much about who she is, about life and about embracing moments.
On her talkative days, granny is always asking how others are. Her heart is always in the well beings of people around her. Other than occasionally complaining that the room is too dark, she never once placed emphasis on herself or her discomfort. Instead, she is always concerned about the people she loved. Just last Tuesday, she said, “If everyone is peaceful and happy, all is good”. No matter what granny is going through, her only desire is for us to be comfortable and contented.
My granny is the ultimate giver, the giver with a feisty temper and spirit, the giver who will roar if her boundaries are crossed. She is the delicate balance of love and strength. She epitomises passionate love. She is my superheroine.
Being with granny these days have also taught me a lot about embracing living in the now, and being grateful that the moments were there. I will never know when my granny is lucid or when she will be in her sleeping beauty mode. It taught me to love and live without expectations, and keep committing to visit her regardless of how the visits might turn out to be. I do it because I love her, simple as that. And I am grateful to have another moment with her.
I always imagine it must be difficult to be in granny’s shoes. When I went home last Tuesday, I kept thinking how annoyed granny was because she couldn’t see. As silly as it may sound, I attempted to do things with my eyes closed for a while. Unfortunately, I don’t think I lasted beyond 15 seconds. It was horrifying, the loss of a primary sense that helps us make sense of the world. I admire how granny learnt to silence her inner demons that could potentially make her sad by accepting things as they are and letting the moment pass. She never allowed these circumstances to derail her. She always trusted the universe, thus maintaining her inner sense of peace.
In the last few months, a series of roller coaster events had me desperately grasping the handrails, many a time to no avail. There were many days I felt I was drowning, and on really bad days I didn’t see why I needed to find the oxygen to breathe anymore. It had been exceptionally painful to watch people depart from my life, both physically and metaphorically. It had been defeating to face health conditions that I never imagined I’ll have to deal with. It had been excruciating to rebuild things from scratch again. It had been draining to revisit issues that I didn’t want to face up to. I was desperately trying to make sense of it all. Until at some point, I realised that maybe I was trying too hard.
Watching granny in action taught me so much about trust. Although irritated by the lack of light, she never once let that environment rob her of her good nature. She trusted that this is the best for now and accepted the situation for what it is. She might have desired, she asked, perhaps at times she got disappointed. But she always accepted whatever the outcomes are and moved on.
She taught me to trust myself. Trust the universe. Trust to let things go. Trust to accept situations for what they are. Trust to allow new things to come. Trust to keep going for what I want.
Grandmama, you remind me how we can always choose how we feel. When certain emotions come, we can choose to let them go and replace them with something else that will serve us better. Not every day may be a Sunday. But we can choose to accept these days, acknowledge our emotions and let them go. Then we are on a clean slate again.
You remind me that Strength doesn’t roar. It whispers, and you have to listen intently to hear its message.
The quieter we are in our inner world, the more focussed and grounded we get.
Thank you grandmamma. No matter what, you’ll always be my rock.
And I love you, very very much.