Yesterday my grandma asked me a set of questions about my mom and aunt’s weekend trip to the province over twenty times during the course of the day. I answered them every time as if it was the first time she asked.
She started asking them again today at breakfast and I answered them again as we drank coffee and ate the turon I made. Normal conversation.
As I washed the dishes last night
I saw among them a cracked disposable container. I break it in two before throwing it into the bin. If not, she’ll wash it and keep in her room. “I’ll keep it, you’ll never know when you’ll need it in the future. If you won’t use it, I will,” she always says. Then she forgets about it after safekeeping.
Every time I notice her dementia getting worse I feel my heart beat in dread. I don’t want a time to come when she won’t remember who I am.
My grandmother was a powerhouse of a woman. She almost single-handedly brought up her children, her husband either working or gambling at the mahjong parlors. She managed poverty and family with an iron hand, severely strict, dishing out corporal punishment to disobeying children. After she raised successful children and her eldest daughter’s marriage ended, she did it all over again with her traumatized grandchildren. Serving a steady structure of homely discipline, work (we manned her sari-sari store) and great food.
Now, her eldest granddaughter (me) just turned thirty. She still yearns to be able to take care of us, but everyone is at an age where we are all supposed to take care of ourselves and everything else, and we do. My heart breaks every time I see her feel without use and unable to help. She tries to remind us of things she thinks we’ve forgotten, like dishes left on the table, and we sometimes answer an irritated “we know!” when we’re very tired because of course we haven’t forgotten. Then after a little while she reminds us of the same thing again.
But she is still very important, irreplacable help. I still need her there; to bolster me whenever she hugs me and I see her beam in pride and complete confidence in me. To be told of my stories several times because she forgets. For me to be told of her stories several times so that I don’t forget. I tell her of her importance, but she thinks I am patronizing her.
If only I could keep her always and happy as she is now: in the garden, sewing our torn clothes, the dogs at her feet. Me going over to sit beside her to hear the comforting stories I have heard a hundred times.