My Complicated Relationship with Dementia

IMG_0020^^ Right after this picture, my grandma told me for my 21st birthday we would drink Jagger and champagne. A woman after my own heart. ^^

When it comes to me and my family and Dementia, it’s complicated.

Yes, there are many things about the disease that aren’t complicated: It’s cruel effects and inevitable outcome, and the high chance I have of getting it after both my dad’s mum and mum’s dad grew old with it.

But my experience with the disease is a bit rare, and instead of taking away someone I loved, Dementia ended up giving me a grandparent instead.

Last Thursday, the YouTube Nation team unanimously agreed to have a video in the show. That’s big news people. On any normal day, the room bickers and banters about each video, splitting into teams that are for or against talking cats, beauty tutorials and everything in between. But when it came to Seth Rogen’s incredible speech before Congress addressing the need for more Alzheimer’s funding and awareness, it was no contest, the video had to be in.

Listening to everyone in the room share how Alzheimers had affected their family, I realized how differently I viewed this kind of disease. Growing up, my first memories of my grandma were her little dog and her insistence on never leaving the house. Every two weeks, my family would drive the two hours to her house in Riverside to buy her a cart full of frozen dinners and soda, clean her house and give her the maximum social interaction she would allow. But as a kid, I saw her chronic depress as the norm.

Along with my grandpa, my dad first began taking care of my grandma when he was 21. Over the years, they enrolled her to go to rehab, picked her up when the effects didn’t last, and after my grandpa died, my dad cared for her when she shut away from the rest of the world. To this day, my dad’s unconditional love for his mum is one of the most inspiring relationships I’ve ever experienced in my life.

When I was 10, my grandma had an accident and was pinned under her dresser for a period of time. From there, she spent the rest of her life in a nursing home, at first recovering from the fall, and later, deteriorating from dementia.

But this isn’t a sad story; if anything, I think it has a happy ending. With each memory Dementia stole from my grandma, the lighter she seemed to become. No longer weighed down my the memories of immigrating and depression, she began to break free of the emotional boulder she had been pinned under.

She giggled at our jokes, wanted to hold my hand throughout our visits, never missed a social event at her nursing home, and sang to anyone who would listen. She became more a part of my life than ever before. And though she would repeat the same questions again and again, she never stopped beaming when she saw me.

She passed away last year and I still often think of the little memories we shared. Her constantly inquiries about why I wasn’t married — and with dementia, that meant an inquiry every 15 minutes — and her giant smile when she’d see us waving from her doorway. The way she’s close her eyes and let her favorite perfume bath her in the few happy memories of her past, and her habit of stealing holiday decorations from the walls of her nursing home and hiding them under her shirt. Our walks around the block, and our developed routine of picking flowers and looking in the antique store window before returning home. The care my dad would take in doing my grandma’s makeup and nails every time he visited, and the giddiness my grandma would get upon seeing my mum. My grandma’s passion for singing loudly and off key, and the joy she took from playing the harmonica.

I use to wish I knew my grandma before the depression and bore witness to the woman who constantly cooked Chinese food, threw wonderful parties, played field hockey and serenaded the world with her harmonica and accordion.

But in the most unconventional way, Demntia was the one thing that helped me build a real relationship with my grandma. And for that, I will always be a bit grateful.

^^ This brilliant video is by filmmaker Will Darbyshire and reminds me to slow down and enjoy life’s little moments. And to visit Paris. And to drink more tea. ^^

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