The visit to Ukraine this autumn brought to me the memories of the last autumn. You know, autumns are always like this – they evoke the melancholy and you start thinking and remembering.
Last autumn, my grandfather passed away and this autumn was the first time I had a chance to visit my family since he left. My father has more silver hair now than his natural color and my grandmother still keeps the picture of my grandfather in the wardrobe. A picture of him as a young soldier, with kind-of-Hercules profile and with the black ribbon over it. The reminder to herself and all of us that he left.
He left on the cold quiet autumn evening. His lungs gave up. The last stroke of Alzheimer over his body. It feels though that he left a few years earlier – a physically strong man with an inflamed by Alzheimer mind.
My grandfather was an intelligent man. He read all of the literature classics through his youth – Tolstoj, Dostojevsky, Pasternak; he followed the politics – I remember vivid frequent discussion at the dinner table about the latest political events; he knew how to fish and how to pick up the mushrooms. He knew all mushrooms – his skills and knowledge about each kind and where they can be found always amazed strangers when the looked at the full of mushrooms trunk of his car every autumn.
He was quiet from nature. But he was also silenced by the extravagant, authoritative and slightly loud personality of his wife. He was just there, in her shadow, doing what asked, reading his books, following his news and escaping to the nature for the mental rest. He was a quiet as the day on which he left.
Do you know how Alzheimer takes over a human? It comes in quietly, it creeps in slowly and it destroys the mind mercilessly. You might read about it in the books and news but you only know about it when you live with someone who struggles with it.
At first, he started forgetting little things – where he put the keys, where he left his fishing tools, where is the remote control. And that was not alarming because all old people forget. It is common, it is usual, it is just ok.
Then, he started putting his things in different places and going over the whole house every day trying to find them. From the outside, it seemed that he played “hide and seek”. For a few hours every day with the rapid changes back to the normal state of mind for the rest of the say.
The doctors did not find the Alzheimer at first. It is so silent and methodical that you can not notice its presence at once. The confirmed our suspicions later. “Alzheimer”, my grandmother said, “we would need to get pills from that in the pharmacy”. She did not understand the extent of it, and I think, she still does not. For her mental illnesses are still the illusions of the 21st century.
He started forgetting how to do basic things – what is the purpose of the shower, that you need to turn the water on, undress and put the soap on your body; that you do not pick up the green apples and grapes until they are ripe…
He forgot how to drive. His most favorite and most beloved activity. We had to take away his car keys. It seems that he was becoming a kid again.
The further, the worse. He had to be taken to the hospital for people with Alzheimer. There, they went for walks and read books together to win a bit of time in the fight with the silent killer.
He stopped walking, he forgot how. He still physically could, but his mind told him there is no way. When my father wanted to roll him out for a walk, ‘It is night outside’, he said. It was 9am on Sunday and the sun was shining in the window on that bright autumn day.
He forgot how to eat and he had to be fed by the nurses. His body slowly gave in. He did not recognize anyone of us anymore.
On the quiet autumn evening, gloomy and cold one, a kind of evening before the snow falls and you finally realize that it is winter, he left. Alzheimer took over his lungs, he forgot how to breathe. He left in silence.
I did not have time to say good-bye. I did not go to his funeral. I was away – working, traveling, studying. Yesterday, on October 13, 2017, was his birthday. My mother said that we do not usually celebrate the birthday of the people who died – we remember them on the day they passed away. I would still like to mention him on that day by writing this post. The day when I am ready to say goodbye, almost a year after.
I love you granddad, and I always will. I remember you sitting by my bed in the hospital after an operation, I remember you taking me to my figure skating classes every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday; I remember you watching me skate although it was too cold to stay there the whole time; I remember you tucking me in my coat and putting me on the bus where my mother or father would pick me up, you always put a few bills of cash in my pocket – “to buy things that you want”; I remember going in the forest with you where you taught me how to pick mushrooms – one of your favourite things to do.
This is how I remember you and always will. These are the things that Alzheimer can not take away.