…..and she called me Lisa.

When I was about 12 years old, my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The disease turned into dementia, and eventually she was unable to care for herself. He husband was 16 years older than her, and the strain of caring for her was too much.
Before my family made the decision to place her in a nursing home, she terrorized my sister and myself with bizzare phone calls.

“Someone has stolen John’s shirt. It looks like him, but it isn’t him.”
My grandfather had changed his shirt, and she didn’t recognize him.

“I think your grandpa is burying someone in the backyard.”
He was planting rose bushes.

She was an incredibly bright woman, a gifted artist, and she could have gone far if she had been able to advance her career. She would actually go into thrift stores and purchase old algebra textbooks and worth through all the problems – for fun! Her brilliance was extinguished when she recieved her diagnosis.

The saddest part was when she began calling me Lisa.

Lisa was her youngest daughter, born 12 years after her two other children. She was born at a time that leads me to strongly suspect that her birth was a last-ditch effort to save a failing marriage. Lisa was/is (who knows?) a drug addict. I was sheltered from knowing what drugs she actually used but saw the turmoil on my family’s faces when she would step out of a family gathering to “grab some appetizers” and come back later, stoned out of her mind. She laid waste to everything she came across, her exhusband even asked her to stop using his name after they divorced. Lisa would dissappear from the family for a few months and show up at Christmas with a new boyfriend almost every year.

In family pictures of Lisa as a child, we look identical. When shown pictures of her, I often think it is me in the pictures, and only doubt myself when other family members in the photos appear to be too young. Imagine seeing a picture of yourself at age 10 standing next to your grandparents in their 30s. It is a very strange experience.

In the year or so before my grandmother was placed in the nursing home, Lisa again materialized to care for her. Her motives for doing so are unclear in my memory. It is possible that she was truly trying to help, but it was also possible that she was stealing. It’s hard to say. My grandmother’s combined paranoia and forgetfulness were causing her to hide her valuables, and then forget where she placed them. We may never know.

My grandmother died on the day before Valentine’s day. I was 17. I came out of my room and one of my parents (I don’t remember which) said “your grandma died.”
Without hesitation, I said “that’s wonderful!” A weight had been lifted.

Alzheimer’s does not just torture the victims, but everyone around them. My grandmother, and our whole family, was free. I did not mourn, as the grandmother I knew had been dead for years. I had come to terms with her loss long before her physical body expired.

My grandmother’s mother had four children. My grandmother developed Alzheimers disease, both her brothers developed Parkinson’s disease, and her last surviving sister has recently been diagnosed with dementia. Combined with a heavy tendency toward multiple sclerosis on my father’s side, my chances of developing a degenerative brain disease before I am 60 years old is between 80%-90%.

After my grandmother’s death when I was 17, I decided how I was going to die. On the day I recieve my diagnosis, I am going to buy a revolver. Every day, I will load and unload this revolver. On the day I struggle with the revolver’s mechanics, I will pull the trigger. Knowing how you are going to die is intensely freeing. I refuse to suffer. I refuse to terrorize those around me.

I will rage against that good night, but on my own terms.


~ by jamiesnydertv on May 3, 2009.

4 Responses to “…..and she called me Lisa.”

  1. Jamie,
    I loved this blog. You are right on. When people die with dementia they disappear long before their bodies quit. Sad but true. I work with hospice patients and see this over and over again.

  2. Very powerful blog Jamie. I enjoy it when you open up your thoughts to us.

    • I’ve had this one in my drafts folder for a while, along with a lot of stuff that contains a lot of raw thought, but still needs words.
      Glad you’re reading.

      • I do not know if I could use this method. I used to handle revolvers quite a bit, and I still would struggle with the mechanics on occasion. But, you are still probably more coordinated then me.

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