This story by young Natalie Marshall, a junior at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas is so poignant I’m going to post the entire, short article here. The original is from the Dallas Morning News.
I’m sipping tea and finishing homework when Dad returns late, his shoulders drooping from the weight of the suitcases. He is clearly exhausted from his visit to his parents.
He hugs me and picks up the plate beneath my teacup; it’s a keepsake Peter Rabbit saucer. His expression lightens with a sentimental smile. “I used to love when my mom would read Peter Rabbit to me.” I realize his shoulders sagged from something other than suitcases. His mother is unable to remember moments like these anymore.
Each passing day, I lose a little more of my grandmother. Most of the time we don’t know what she is thinking, but when she is driven by pure emotions, her confusion is more apparent. Recently, when I felt sick, she was so concerned that she asked me the same question 12 times in eight minutes, as if someone were cruelly jabbing the repeat button. I don’t know which felt worse: my stomach or my sorrow.
The American Alzheimer’s Association says that 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. My generation will be the future caretakers of baby boomers with the disease.
The behavioral aspect of Alzheimer’s is particularly scary. It’s not just the terrible disease, but also the possibility of the afflicted turning against loved ones, and family members’ fatigue and sourness jading the memory of them.
I also worry about my grandfather. He and my grandmother have had a tender love story, and he is still dear and gentle to her. We understand her behavior is not who she is, but her uncharacteristic upbraiding and screeching at the love of her life is painful to watch.
This is not how I want to remember her! She was kind, cheerful and generous. Her youthful giggle was like mine, and she had a rich singing voice. She’d rather be hiking, skiing and sailing in the Caribbean than cooking. She earned a master’s in speech therapy and worked with American Indian children in Colorado.
I feel now more than ever the urgency to preserve our family stories so that when our minds can’t hold them, they live on. One of my most precious treasures is the book of family stories my maternal grandfather wrote about growing up during the Great Depression, boot camp, fighting in World War II and Korea, and raising his family. He died a few years ago, but his vitality is still with me through his stories.
I believe the unspoken disconnect between the generations occurs in part because we don’t give each other a chance: Older people think kids won’t care; kids wonder, “How could this relate to me?”
Even painful stories should be preserved: The courage drawn during hard times inspires the next generation to persevere. Each person is unique, and storytelling gives us a glimpse into someone’s soul. Through stories, you step into a person’s shoes, into a time other than your own, and become immersed in his or her world.
Build memories; don’t squander them. I hope each family has a way of preserving memories. It’s kids who take the legacies and life lessons of the family, not just to learn but also to pass them on.
It shouldn’t take dementia and Alzheimer’s to bring us together; we can come together on our own accord, because everyone has a story worth telling. By saving the past, we can preserve the future.