Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. ~ E. L. Doctorow

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Saving My Grandmother From Alzheimer's

What is a memoir?  An autobiographical account of one aspect of a person's life.  Not the author's entire life.  Peter Bricklebank, a published author and teacher, prefers the term personal narrative over the memoir.  A person doesn't need to be "a ripe old age" to write a personal narrative.  The term describes the reflection of an "on-going story" of life.  

Bricklebank's perspective helped when I took Smith magazine's Six-Word Memoir challenge.  I didn't know what I wanted to write about.  Trying to pinpoint a moment of my life to chronicle was like trying to pick my all-time favorite book or song.  There's just too many to choose from.  

So, as an ongoing story of my life I chose the relationship with my paternal grandmother.  It's my attempt to fight her Alzheimer's disease by writing everything I can remember about her down.  Very few of my childhood memories exist without her.  Coming to grips with her disease has been difficult.  To lose my grandmother and still see her alive kills a little part of me every time.    

Her memory is almost completely gone.  The sadness constantly drags me down, leaving me in darkness.  In the summer, my family visits our hometown of Virginia Beach.  We take some time during our visit to see my grandmother at her nursing home.  She is constantly on the move.  Walking laps around the home.  Sneaking into resident's rooms.  Stealing things she's convinced are hers. 

Finally, we get to her take a break.  My dad talks to her, but she struggles to construct coherent sentences.  She looks at us.  The pain squeezes my heart as her eyes pass over me without recognition.  This loving woman, whose pride in me was unparalleled, no longer knows who I am.  We take a few pictures.  

I sit quietly.  Words die inside me.  I don't know the woman standing in front of me anymore than she knows me.  I'm afraid to go near her.  What if she freaks out?  

I want to lay my head in her lap as she brushes my hair.  I want to turn the TV on and watch our soap General Hospital.  I want to grab the classifieds, jump in the car and peruse all the yard sales.  But I can't and we won't.  There's a keypad lock for both front doors.  She isn't going anywhere.       

The older I get the more powerless I am to the fear the disease will claim me as one of its victims.  I want to get everything in my head out before it's lost forever.  The six-word memoir is just the beginning.  My plan is to capture my story of Ernestine M. Campbell in a full-length memoir to share with my family and friends.  So, when she can no longer remember we won't forget.  

So, here's the beginning of my journey into the past.          

Grasping on to Grandmother's disintegrating memory.

Ernestine and Jack Campbell
Lovers despite confining color barriers. 





Share your Six-Word Memoir with me.  What aspect of your on-going story can you express in six words?







Bricklebank, Peter. "Longer Nonfiction: The Personal Narrative or LIterary Memoir." In The Portable MFA in Creative Writing, edited by Michelle Ehrhard, 113. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 2006.

  

3 comments:

Anna said...

I found your memoirs to be incredibly moving and compelling. And the best thing about good memoirs? People can relate to them. There are many people in the world who have a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer's and you have deftly captured the hope that comes with long-term pain. (See? It takes me 10x as many words to awkwardly say what you expressed clearly in 6).

Mine will be a more silly, Byron-esque version about my grad school relative poverty: Saikin struggles to take in bacon. Enough rhyming; I'll leave it the Lewis Carroll's of the world :)

Laura Campbell said...

I'm glad you liked my memoirs. They were harder to write than I thought. I just wish I could produce compelling writing all the time.

I think your's is great! Made me giggle a little:)

Michael Offutt said...

My mother has alzheimers. It comes and goes but sometimes she doesn't even know who I am.

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