My grandpa used to go metal detecting when I was young. It was a past time he was proud of and he enjoyed investigating the soccer fields near his home for treasures. He kept a plastic tackle box in a locked desk drawer, which he would pull out from time to time whenever he had a visit with one of his few granddaughters among his pack of grandsons. He found some of the most interesting rings and he would, on occasion, give one to us.
My grandpa has Alzheimer’s. It’s something I’ve known for a year now and something I’ve known was a possibility for almost two. I’ve known this whole time but it’s hard to accept that this person who has been such a large part of all our lives is slowly forgetting who we are.
He still knows me and calls me by name, which as happy as it makes me I find almost ironic because when I was young he used to mistakenly call me “Leah,” my oldest female cousin whom I resembled, long before Alzheimer’s was a reality. It became somewhat of a running joke to the point where I have a few relatives who occasionally call me “Leah.” He still tells me, every single time he is saying hello or goodbye to me, that I am a special girl and I am special to him.
However, when I saw him on Black Friday, he started to tell me “Happy Easter.” And I’ve watched him viewing the digital photo frame we gave my grandparents for their 75th and 80th birthdays, and he’s observed people in photos and referred to them by the wrong name.
My cousin Leah had the brilliant idea to give Grandpa a “Grandpa’s Stories” book for Christmas. She and her husband Admir have been visiting Grandpa on Saturdays and asking him questions in the book – about his childhood, raising the family, meeting Grandma. It also gives Grandma a chance to run some errands and have some quiet time alone.
One weekend she wasn’t able to make it, and she asked if I would like to help. So my fiancé and I visited for a Sunday afternoon while Grandma made dinner. We talked about the farm where he spent hid childhood, the shenanigans he pulled, raising the family, and the child they lost to SIDS. Grandpa was cheery throughout the conversation and only seemed to get quiet when we talked about Richard.
We re-asked some of the questions Leah already covered, just to hear him talk about his life. For every question Grandma verified some facts and helped prompt Grandpa to answer some of the questions in more detail.
Two things about this conversation showed me just how deeply my grandparents care for each other: the fact that Grandma knew so much about Grandpa’s life that she was able to prompt him so well to tell us childhood stories from before he met, and that when I asked Grandpa if he’d marry Grandma again, he said “yes.”
“In a heartbeat?”
“Definitely. In a heartbeat.” (And Grandma’s retort: “I can leave the room if you want to answer honestly!”)
At the end, I said to him “Well Grandpa, it sounds like you’ve lived a pretty full life. Is there anything you regret or wish had turned out differently?”
“No. Other than the child we lost, Richard.”
“You have no regrets? Nothing else?”
“There were things that didn’t turn out exactly as we planned, but” (looking at Grandma) “we made the best of it. No regrets.”
I have no idea if there is anything my Grandpa regrets, and if there is he likely doesn’t remember them. But I honestly believe Grandpa is so satisfied with his life that he has no important regrets that would be able to stick at this point. It’s almost a blessing that he can’t recall any insignificant regrets, but it’s a tragedy that he has such a fulfilling life behind him that he eventually won’t remember. We can all only hope to have a life we can be as proud of as my grandpa is of his own.
I don’t have all of the rings he gave me but I have some. I keep them in my own locked box so that, unlike the original owners at the soccer field, they are never lost. My grandpa might not remember me someday, and someday I may lose memories of him. But locked in my safe is the tangible memory of how much my grandpa loves me and finds me special. Even without the rings, it’s one thing I will never forget.