Last week, thanks to my Mom's 13 passenger van (known as, THE BUS), my sister, Mom and I were able to load up our littles and travel northward for a visit with some extended family: a visiting Uncle from the Netherlands, a very hospitable Aunt and a very dear Opa.
I hate long drives and I hate driving places I don't know very well but both problems are solved when you have good company and are just the passenger.
It was a great time, albeit short. (Although, Aunt Jan was probably glad for us to go with our seven children in tow!)
Opa looks very well and I am always so pleased to see him.
I am coming to terms with the fact that today's Opa is a different man entirely to the grandfather I grew up loving and will be a different man the next time I see him as well.
Alzheimer's steals more than memories. It steals the future too.
I mourn those things that once were, those wonderful things that will never be again. The stories he tells, his history. He no longer remembers his first home or even what he has degrees in. I mourn that the advice-giving days are over at what seems just the moment I began to listen. I mourn that he asks in whispers where his wife is when too long a time has stretched and then must relive her death. "How long since she has died?" he asked and whomever is the newsbearer at the time says "seven months".
"Only seven months? It seems like such a very long time to be without her. The pain is very great and I am just so terribly bad not to remember! I don't remember how she died, or when, or how much she suffered before she died."
Tears choke back and I cannot speak.
Yet with the unfathomable sadness of treasures lost, there come quiet, happy moments to temper the pain. Never have I been so complimented by him than I do now. There was a time when his bluntness was unbearable and could be so unkind. He shows genuine love and interest in babies now whereas he used to be too caught up in conversation to notice them much at all. His jovial spirit seems all the more jovial.
I learned that he is enjoying puzzles these days, and word searches. So I enjoyed making him a few of his own to send with little bits of mail. Word searches with the names of his descendants, of his characteristics, and of familiar things. (You can make your own at this site)
I was also happy to see that he has been enjoying a gift I sent along with my mother the last time she went to visit him.
Seeing the photo there on the coffeetable for him to look at really meant so much. Seeing his hands, holding on to it was like having him hold on to a bit of my heart.
My Mom and her Dad. I wouldn't exist without them. I was born from the love my mother and dad shared and that could only be with the love of Opa toward Oma. And so, in his hands he holds my heritage, my very life.