Friday, July 01, 2005

A Tea Party (1990)

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It feels so good to have a friend
On whom you can depend.
To play with carefree, schoolgirl glee,
And share a quiet cup of tea.
My grandmother, pictured here with my daughter, had Alzheimer's Disease. This picture was taken the summer Nyssa was four. The two of them spread out a rug in the study and got out the pink and yellow plastic doll dishes to have a party. Pretend tea and cakes were served. Grandma (Nyssa's great-grandma) got down on the floor to be on her level. They giggled, laughed, pretended to have others there as guests and whispered in each others ears. Nyssa had a great time. So did Grandma.

I don't recall if we had noticed the signs yet. They were to become progressively more pronounced over a short period of time and were to be complicated by a stroke. My grandmother died only a few years later. Nyssa remembers her. I hope she remembers the good and happy times like above and not just the later visits, after the stroke. Then her great-grandmother could only smile and nod and never again called her by name.

Hind sight is always 20/20. Little things, unusual things that at the time don't trouble you become obvious after the fact. Looking back there were vague tell-tale signs of the disease even at the time of this picture. After Grandpa died she moved out of the retirement center, bought a house on her own in Roanoke and began her garden there. Then one day, she decided that the trees in her yard were dangerous or that she had too many and she had them ALL cut down. She loved trees and flowering bushes. She was very verbal about wanting to live by herself until the night they received the phone call from her. She simply said, "Come get me I want to move in with you." No explanation. She moved here to Virginia Beach, then spent several years wanting to "go back to Roanoke". Alzheimer's works that way. More than likely, she drove to the grocery store and got lost on her way home. Familiar landmarks were unrecognizable, she couldn't remember her address, nothing looked right. By the time she found her house she was panicked. So she made the call, "Come get me", but without ever giving an explanation as to why.

The "downhill slippery slope" of Alzheimer's had begun and we didn't see it. We didn't know what was to come. Even at the time this picture was taken, we didn't recognize the symptoms. I'm grateful we had this time of "not knowing". It gave a daughter time reminisce with her mother before the mother forgot she had a daughter. It gave a grand-daughter time to go through old pictures and scraps of paper with family history written in scrawled pencil and to hear her grandmother tell the stories belonging to those pictures before Alzheimer's totally robbed her of her speech and memory. It gave a great-granddaughter time to make memories of tea parties, lap-sitting, and handmade quilts before her great-grandmother's hands could no longer hold the pink cup and her mind had forgotten how to take a stitch. This time of "not knowing" was precious to all of us.

This time ended all too soon.

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