Naail AliAlzheimer's Disease
Hello, my name is Akram. I used to live with my grandmother who had Alzheimer’s. My grandmother like all grandmas loved two very distinctive things. Telling stories and stuffing my mouth with thehli banbukeyo and rihaakuru bai. She was an amazing soul with a hundred stories to tell. I lived with her for a few years during my primary grades. It was a part of my childhood where my imagination took flight. How could it not? With stories of the little “musalhu dhaihlee Kaalhu” who use to eat up all of grandma’s chilies from her chilly garden. Along with the world of made up she was rich in history as well. She lived through the great depression off the world war getting by with vegetables from her garden and fish my grandfather brought.
My grandmother wasn’t diagnosed until the very last years of her life. Like most people in the rural parts of Maldives the symptoms were seen as part of getting old. During the first days it was little things. She’d forget where her keys were or what day it is. She’d forget to water her prized garden occasionally. Of course, none of us had heard of Alzheimer’s at the time. It was a slow process from minor inconveniences to her forgetting her prayers. The reason why I say her forgetting to pray on time is big is because she’d never forget. The first to wake up and wake the rest of us up was always her. She would pray five times a day sitting for an hour at a time praying for us to succeed in life. It was an inspiration to see such a devotion. It was painful to see her miss the prayers.
My mom felt it the most. She was my grandmother’s golden child. You could bring the worlds best and most expensive food to the table and neither my mom nor my grandmother would have it if both of them weren’t present at the table. It was one of those bonds that seems beyond conditions and hardships of this world.
During my 10th year at school I came home to an ambulance parked at the front of my doorstep. My grandmother had left the stove on and forgotten. There was a fire. My sister had minor burns while drowsing the fire with the only fire extinguisher in the neighborhood. My grandmother denied the possibility of her running the stove. I imagine that day to be the point of change in perspectives. Our family took the issue seriously, Society took my grandmother as irresponsible and my mother took the most brutal emotional jab she had ever taken.
It was time to see the nature of my grandmother’s illness. We took her to IGMH, where we got a vague idea but was advised to leave abroad for further investigation. We went to India as soon as we could possibly compile the funds. I wasn’t present for it, but I imagine my mother would have broken down when the doctor explained the diagnosis.
My grandmother came back home because she did not want to be treated in a facility with nurses and other sick people with medicine as her daily friend. As she put it “I survived the world at war, I can live with forgetting where I put my illoshifathi”. My grandmother was at stage four or moderate cognitive decline. She would leave for a walk and forget where she was going, and my mother would routinely run after her every day. Soon she started forgetting names. At this point she no longer shared with me the times my grandfather had swam between islands to get to her. Nor the stories of “musalhu dhaihlee Kaalhu”. She would smile at everyone. But it wasn’t hard to see the confusion behind her smile.
By the late years of my grandmother’s life my mother had sent me away with my sisters to study. My mom took care of grandma tirelessly. My mom would never complain, nor would she look like she was burdened. The times I visited my grandmother I would see a hollow of what she once was. Thin glassy eyes and really nothing to say but a few words. My mom used picture cards to help grandma remember.
She would show her pictures of us as kids, my grandma’s pictures of when she was young and tell stories when ever she could. My grandma would always look as If she was a child hearing bedtime story. The few words she’d say would be “dharifulhaa varah loabivey”. It was a journey for everyone in the family. My grandmother forgot her grandchildren’s identities, her husband’s name and the way back to her own house. But strangely enough she never lost her kindness towards my mother. Everyday through the roughest time in our lives we could see the bond between them break, grow and reestablish. Falling in love every day.
My grandmother passed in her sleep peacefully two years ago. It was a day we all dreaded but knew was coming. People from the island massed to the graveyard for her funeral. A lot changed that day. I learned what someone’s absence feels like. It was a painful part of my life. But at the same time, she was a magical piece of my life that I love and thank god for every day. My grandmothers garden was cleaned out, but I have my own now. With chilies, tomatoes and a little sign that says “No musalhu dhaihlee kaalhu allowed”.
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